What is a Copyright Notice?

Last modified: October 9, 2020
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A copyright notice is a statement placed on copies or phonorecords of a work to inform the public that a copyright owner is claiming ownership of the work. A copyright notice consists of three elements: 

  • The copyright symbol © or (p) for phonorecords, the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; 
  • The year of first publication of the work (or of creation if the work is unpublished);  
  • The name of the copyright owner, an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation. 

A notice should be affixed to copies or phonorecords of a work in a way that gives reasonable notice of the claim of copyright. 

Using a copyright notice is optional for unpublished works, non-U.S. works, and works published on or after March 1, 1989. However, notice conveys the following benefits: 

  • It puts potential users on notice that copyright is claimed in the work.
  • For published works, notice may prevent a defendant from attempting to limit liability for damages or injunctive relief based on an “innocent infringement” defense.
  • It identifies the copyright owner at the time of first publication for parties seeking permission to use the work.
  • It identifies the year of first publication, which can be used to determine the term of copyright for anonymous or pseudonymous works or works made for hire.
  • It may prevent the work from becoming an “orphan” by identifying the copyright owner or specifying the term of copyright. Orphan works are original works of authorship for which prospective users cannot identify or locate copyright owners to request permission.

Notice was required for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989. Works published without notice before that date may have entered the public domain in this country.

When deciding to use a work protected by copyright, the general rule is to seek permission from the copyright owner. Under the copyright law, a copyright owner may authorize activities that fall under the exclusive rights of copyright. For more information on seeking permission to use a copyrighted work, see How to Obtain Permission (Circular 16A)

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