I was just formulating the copyright for my latest design and was wondering:

Is there a proper/universal/preferred structure for copyright notices on your work?

I know that some years ago, US law required the use of © or the word Copyright followed by the year and company/owner name but I've seen all sorts of structures.

  • © Year Name
  • © Copyright Year Name
  • © Website
  • © Name Email
  • Copyright Year Website Name

...just to name a few.

  • To the best of my knowledge '© Website' is not legally possible unless the Website is a company/business name (e.g. '© StackExchange'). A generic Website would be something akin to '© graphicdesign.stackexchange.com'. It's nonsensical. A domain can't hold copyright - only a Person can hold it. That's the only invalid/confusing version of the examples you gave that I would avoid. The rest are okay as far as declarations go. Oct 1 '17 at 5:15
  • Are you also granting any rights to anyone else? If so, you might want to look at similar questions in that regard. The issue of Copyright tends to head down the path of "licensing a work" of which there are nearly limitless ways to grant and revoke rights both explicitly and implicitly to anyone else. You and your heirs are the rights holder to any work you create (except works made for hire) for as long as the protections afforded by Copyright remain in effect. Oct 1 '17 at 5:23

The requirement to use a particular format for your copyright notice was a vestige of the now-obsolete Universal Copyright Convention. As per Wikipedia,

U.S. law no longer requires the use of a copyright notice, although placing it on a work does confer certain benefits to the copyright holder. Prior law did, however, require a notice, and the use of a notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works.

The precise format required by the former U.S. law (before March 1, 1989) is detailed in the second link, but basically it's © Year Name or equivalently Copyright Year Name if the designated copyright symbol is not convenient to use.

The year is important so you know whether the copyright term has expired. The name is important so you can figure out who the owner of the copyright is. While email would probably serve the same purpose, the law predates the existence of email by a number of decades.

The other formats you see are probably either (a) a notice by someone who just couldn't be bothered to look it up, or (b) something required in some other jurisdiction at some point. Probably there would perhaps occasionally be somebody unaware of the former law who thought they could "improve" on the standard format specified in the legal statutes.

I am not from the United States and if I was, I would not be certified to provide legal advice there.

  • I plan to steal your last statement as my disclaimer — Many thanx. ("Plagiarism IS the sincerest form of flattery."— anon.)
    – Stan
    Oct 26 '16 at 6:04
  • "...whether the copyright term has expired." but no copyright will expire in atleast 120 years, this means that no copyright with this kind of notice has actually expired since the law is from or another unless it happens to fall in some gap. Laws on this are younger than 120 years which is a incredibly long time as 120 years back from today is 1896 which is before your grandparents were born! Before the 2 world wars. If patents worked like copyright the lightbulb would have been free of copiright in 1999 and the television would still be under copyright for another 35 years.
    – joojaa
    Oct 26 '16 at 8:14
  • That's an anachronistic remark. The copyright term was much shorter for many categories of works when the original law was enacted (the maximum term in the 1909 law was 56 years). On the other hand, if the interests of big corporations continue to trump consumer rights in US legislation, we may well end up in a situation where copyright in practice never expires, but let's leave these speculations aside.
    – tripleee
    Oct 26 '16 at 8:30
  • 1
    @Stan “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”― Oscar Wilde
    – Alin
    Mar 25 '17 at 17:05
  • This is a solid answer. Copyright notice in the U.S. is NOT required by law to protect you and your work. Even when notice is given, the year of the work is also not necessarily required in the U.S., but it is still a good idea. However, many countries still require such notice. If someone is deeply concerned about Copyrighting their work, they can officially register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, of which the filing fee is currently $55 USD per work. That can get pricey pretty fast. Oct 1 '17 at 5:04

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