For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the copyright notice is optional, though highly recommended. Before March 1, 1989, the use of the notice was mandatory on all published works, and any work first published before that date must bear a notice or risk loss of copyright protection.
(The Copyright Office does not take a position on whether works first published with notice before March 1, 1989, and reprinted and distributed on and after March 1, 1989, must bear the copyright notice.)
Use of the notice is recommended because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, the court will not allow a defendant to claim "innocent infringement"
-- that is, that he or she did not realize that the work is protected. (A successful innocent infringement claim may result in a reduction in damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.)
The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.
Form of Notice for Visually Perceptible Copies
The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all of the following three elements:
The copyright symbol (the letter "C" in a circle), or the
word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; an
The year of first publication of the work. In the case of
compilations or derivative works incorporating previously
published material, the year date of first publication of
the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year
date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or
sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any,
is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards,
stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article;
The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an
abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a
generally known alternative designation of the owner.
The "C in a circle" notice is used only on "visually perceptible copies." Certain kinds of
works...for example, musical, dramatic, and literary works...may be fixed not in "copies" but by means of sound in an audio recording. Since audio recordings such as audio tapes and phonograph disks are "phonorecords" and not "copies," the "C in a circle" notice is not used to indicate protection of the
underlying musical, dramatic, or literary work that is recorded.
Form of Notice for Phonorecords of Sound Recordings
The copyright notice for phonorecords of sound recordings* has somewhat different requirements. The notice appearing on phonorecords should contain the following three elements:
*Sound recordings are defined as "works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, regardless of the nature of the material
objects, such as disks, tapes, or other phonorecords, in which they are embodied."
1. The sound recording copyright symbol (the letter "P" in a
The year of first publication of the sound recording; and
The name of the owner of copyright in the sound recording,
or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or
a generally known alternative designation of the owner.
If the producer of the sound recording is named on the
phonorecord labels or containers, and if no other name
appears in conjunction with the notice, the producer's name
shall be considered a part of the notice.
*NOTE: Since questions may arise from the use of variant forms of the notice, any form of the notice other than those given here should not be used without first seeking legal
Position of Notice
The notice should be affixed to copies or phonorecords of the work in such a manner and location as to "give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright." The notice on phonorecords may appear on the surface of the phonorecord or on the phonorecord label or container, provided the manner of placement and location give reasonable notice of the claim. The three elements of the notice should ordinarily appear together on the copies or phonorecords. The Copyright Office has issued regulations concerning the form and position of the copyright notice in the Code of Federal Regulations (37 CFR Part 201). For more information, see Circular 3.
Publications Incorporating United States Government Works
Works by the U.S. Government are not eligible for copyright protection. For works published on and after March 1, 1989, the previous notice requirement for works consisting primarily of one or more U.S. Government works has been eliminated. However, use of the copyright notice for these works is still strongly recommended. Use of a notice on such a work will defeat a claim of innocent infringement as previously described provided the notice also includes a statement that identifies one of the following: those portions of the work in which copyright is claimed or those portions that constitute U.S. Government material.
An example is:
Copyright 1994 Jane Brown. Copyright claimed in
Chapters 7-10, exclusive of U.S. Government maps.
Works published before March 1, 1989, that consist primarily of one or more works of the U.S. Government must bear a notice and the identifying statement.
To avoid an inadvertent publication without notice, the author or other owner of copyright may wish to place a copyright notice on any copies or phonorecords that leave his or her control. An appropriate notice for an unpublished work is:
Unpublished work Copyright 1994 Jane Doe.
Effect of Omission of the Notice or of Error in the Name or Date
The Copyright Act, in sections 405 and 406, provides procedures for correcting errors and omissions of the copyright notice on works published on or after January 1, 1978, and before March 1, 1989.
In general, if a notice was omitted or an error was made on copies distributed on or after January 1, 1978, and before March 1, 1989, the copyright was not automatically lost. Copyright protection may be maintained if registration for the work has been made before or is made within 5 years after the publication without notice, and a reasonable effort is made to add the notice to all copies or phonorecords that are distributed to the public in the United States after the omission has been discovered. For more information see Circular 3.