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Notice of Copyright

Copyright law helps small business owners have exclusive rights to their creative works. International intellectual property law and U.S. copyright law give an owner of artistic works exclusive rights to their work. While you do not need a formal copyright registration, it is a wise decision for a start-up or established business to make.

There are certain requirements for securing copyright protection for your original work. One of the requirements that helps protect your work is having a copyright notice on your work. This article explains a copyright notice, where it goes on copyrighted material, and how to enforce it.

Types of Copyrighted Work

The Copyright Act governs United States copyright law. This is federal law, so it governs the entire United States.

First, to get intellectual property rights, the works you create must be original works of authorship. Plagiarism and copied works cannot gain protection. Next, the creative expression needs to be in a fixed, tangible form. You can hold, see, smell, or listen to tangible mediums. An example of this would be a short story written on paper or a painting on canvas.

It must also fall within a certain category of works, such as:

  • Literary works
  • Sound recordings
  • Broadcasts
  • Computer software
  • Computer programs
  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Dramatic works
  • Motion pictures
  • Social media content

No copyright registration is available for works that are fair use or in the public domain. Artificial intelligence created works cannot be copyrighted at this time. The U.S. Copyright Office launched an initiative in March 2023 to investigate this issue.

Copyright Notice Requirements

Under earlier U.S. law, work had to have a disclaimer or notice of copyright on it for protection. This changed in 1989 when the United States joined the Berne Convention. The notice is no longer required for works created after 1989 or their derivative works. Notice of copyright on works prior to March 1989 is still relevant to older works' copyright status.

While no longer required, a disclaimer on your first publication and future publications can provide certain benefits to copyright holders.

Benefits of Copyright Notice

Whether your work requires a notice of copyright or not, it is often beneficial to the copyright holder. It notifies the public that the work has copyright protection. At the same time, it identifies the copyright owner and provides the year of publication. This is important for any infringement actions you take against copy-cats of your work. This notice stays the same no matter the type of work.

In addition, adding a notice of copyright is easy because it doesn't require the copyright owner to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. There are no other permissions you need to seek. Finally, the defendant cannot use an "innocent infringement" defense if copyright infringement occurs. That occurs if the infringer is unaware of a copyright. If a proper copyright notice appears on the work upon which the defendant infringed, he has notice.

Please remember that works created and copyrighted before March 1989 required copyright notice. Otherwise, they may have lost copyright protection. However, certain foreign works were still protected even if they still needed the notice due to the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA).

Proper Copyright Notice

A copyright notice generally has three elements:

  1. Copyright symbol ©, the word "Copyright," or its abbreviation (Copr.)
  2. The year the work was first published to the public. If unpublished, the phrase "Unpublished Work" and the year created are on the work
  3. The name of the copyright owner. This can be a small business or a person

Here is an example of a proper copyright notice for both a published and unpublished work: © 2001 John Doe (published) and Unpublished Work © 2000 Jane Doe.

The copyright symbol is only used for "visually perceptible copies," which are works fixed in copies, such as dramatic and literary works. Audio recordings use a "P" in a circle (℗) because it is a "phonorecord" and not a "copy." This symbol protects the underlying dramatic, literary, or musical work recorded.

Whether the work has the "C" or "P" in a circle, the notice of copyright must be in a manner and location that gives reasonable notice that the work has copyright protection. For example, if software appears and distributes via compact disc, the notice should be on the disc. If, on the other hand, a consumer downloads software from the Internet or an app store, then the notice should be on the screen where the download is available. As a side note, software and apps are "visually perceptible" and therefore use the © symbol.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright notice allows you to send a cease and desist letter before filing a lawsuit. If you cannot come to an agreement, then you file a copyright infringement lawsuit. Should someone credit your work, known as attribution, then there is no case against them.

Before you file a lawsuit, you need a federal copyright application on file with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you succeed in showing the other person or business copied your work, then you can get statutory damages. These damages include lost profits, attorney's fees, and other damages to your brand and work.

Getting Copyright Notice Legal Help

While the notice of copyright is no longer a requirement to keep the copyright status of your work, there are other requirements that may apply. You can learn more about copyrights on your own, but an intellectual property lawyer can give you legal advice. These lawyers help you determine if your work qualifies for copyright protection. They can help guide you through the process of obtaining a copyright.

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