The phrase "All rights reserved"

The phrase "All rights reserved" is often used in conjunction with a copyright notice. Today it has no legal significance. In copyright law, by default all rights are reserved; nothing may be done with a copyrighted work without explicit permission. The phrase was a required element from the 1910 Buenos Aires Copyright Convention.

The Creative Commons uses Some rights reserved to indicate its more liberal approach to copyright.

Origin of the phrase

The phrase was a required element in the 1910 Buenos Aires Copyright Convention. This was a treaty between the United States and most South and Middle American countries. Article 3 of this Convention states:

The acknowledgement of a copyright obtained in one State, in conformity with its laws, shall produce its effects of full right, in all the other States, without the necessity of complying with any other formality, provided always there shall appear in the work a statement that indicates the reservation of the property right.

Adding the phrase "All rights reserved" was enough to comply with this article.

Legal effect of the phrase

The phrase "All rights reserved" indicates that the copyright holder does not want to give up any of the exclusive rights he has under copyright law. This is only relevant for members of the Buenos Aires Copyright Convention.

Today all members of the Buenos Aires Copyright Convention are also member of the Berne Convention. The Berne Convention states that unless explicitly stated otherwise, all rights are reserved. Further, a copyright law may not require any formalities as a condition for copyright protection. Therefore "All rights reserved" has no legal significance anymore.

Free press exception

There is one location in the (Dutch) Copyright Act where the "all rights reserved" notice is relevant. The so-called free press exception in copyright law states that the press can freely copy news and articles about current topics, despite any copyrights on such articles. The source must be noted.

The free press exception can however easily be stopped by adding the "all rights reserved" notice to the original article. This bars the exception, according to copyright law. In this specific situation therefore the notice is relevant.

For most people this situation will not occur. The free press exception only applies to news, which is copied from a press medium by another press medium.

Some rights reserved

Even though the phrase "all rights reserved" has no legal significance today, it is still used with almost all copyright notices. The only practical function is that of a warning: the author realizes he has a copyright and he really means to keep it.

The Creative Commons initiative uses a slightly different phrase, Some rights reserved, to indicate its more liberal approach to copyright. The phrase then is used as a link text to the applicable Creative Commons license. Their "dedication to the public domain" statement uses the phrase "No rights reserved".

All rights reversed

Occasionally people use the phrase "All rights reversed" instead of "reserved". Usually this is done as a joke. When it is meant seriously, it indicates the author does want others to use his copyrighted work. The phrase by itself is not enough; a license must explicitly state the rights that are granted.

More information

The article "All rights reserved." in a copyright declaration is nearly always just chaff by Jonathan de Boyne Pollard provides an in-depth discussion of this phrase.

The text of the Buenos Aires Copyright Convention (PDF) is available from the IP Mall.