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Do You Need to Use the © to Be Protected?

Is that little © really necessary to provide copyright protection to your work? The short answer is “No.” But, just because it’s not required doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include it. Including a copyright notice has its benefits. 

The basic rule is that copyright protection attaches when a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. 17 USC §102(a). Neither publication (with or without notice) nor registration is required for copyright protection to attach. 17 USC §§401-408. 

This is a change from earlier law that used to require a copyright notice — that little “c” with a circle around it — for copyright protection to attach. Those days are over, but the use of a copyright notice is still relevant to a determination of the copyright status of older works. See United States Copyright Office, Circular 3 (.pdf).

Even though a copyright notice isn’t required anymore, there are still good reasons to include one. 

First off, it gives some important information, i.e., it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. 

Second, using a copyright notice means that a defendant in an infringement suit can’t argue that the infringement was innocent and that damages should thus be reduced. See, e.g., 17 USC §401(d) (when notice appears in form and position specified by §401, defendants generally not helped by claim of “innocent infringement”).

Here’s what the copyright notice should contain (17 USC §401(b)):

  • The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; and
  • The year of first publication of the work; and
  • The name of the owner of the copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner. Example: ©2012 Jane Doe.

For everything you need to know about copyrights, turn to CEB’s California Business Litigation, chap 7. On copyrights in the digital world, check out CEB’s Internet Law and Practice in California, chap 1. CEB also has a program on Basics of Copyright Law, available On Demand.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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