The copyright notice

The copyright notice is used to indicate that the author of a work intends to actively assert his copyright. In the past, the absence of a copyright notice could mean the work was without copyright. Today there is no legal requirement to include a copyright notice on a work. Still, the copyright notice serves as a useful indicator that the copyright holder cares about his copyright.

Origin of the copyright notice

The copyright notice originated in US copyright law. From the first US copyright law until the 1979 law, each copy of a work was required to have a proper copyright notice. Without the notice, the copyright on the work would terminate automatically. This law was applied harshly, so it was important to put in a correct copyright notice.

Form of the notice

The copyright notice consists of these three elements, in this order:

If any of the elements is omitted or not in the correct form, the copyright notice is invalid.

When such a notice is given, Often the phrase All rights reserved is also present. This phrase is not a required part of the copyright notice itself. It indicates that the author not only claims to be copyright holder, but also does not want to give up any of his rights under copyright.

Effects of a notice

Effect on copyright status

Today there is no legal requirement to include a copyright notice on a work in order to get copyright protection. The presence or absence of a notice does not change the copyright status of a work.

Effect on infringement lawsuits

However in certain jurisdictions, most notably the USA, including a valid notice means that an infringer is deemed to have known of the copyright status of the work. As a result the court will hold him accountable for willful infringement, which carries a much higher penalty than innocent infrigement.

Effect of an incorrect notice

An incorrect notice today, at worst, can mean it is harder to prove willful infringement in the USA. In most other jurisdictions an incorrect notice makes no difference whatsoever.

The article Mickey Mouse -- A Truly Public Character explains the history of the copyright notice in detail and shows what could happen under old US copyright law if the copyright notice was incorrectly applied.