Even if you are completely unfamiliar with copyright law, you’re probably aware that most websites have some kind of copyright notice in their footer and, as such, you probably should too.
However, anything worth doing is worth doing well and, while a copyright notice isn’t particularly difficult, doing it wrong may create confusion or, in worst-case scenarios, thorny issues that may have to be cleared up should a dispute arise.
So how do you create a solid, functional copyright notice? There’s no one set formula on how to do it, but the best notices all have a set of components and convey several pieces of important information.
With that in mind, the best place to start answering the question is by looking at the purpose a copyright notice serves and how it can serve it.
What Does a Copyright Notice Need?
Legally, a copyright notice doesn’t need to be anything. It doesn’t need to exist at all.
In the United States, since 1989, there has been no requirement to place a copyright notice on a work to receive protection. In most other countries, that has been true for much longer.
In fact, under the law, works of creative expression, such as articles, images, audio, video, etc, are protected the moment they are fixed into a tangible medium of expression. As such, merely hitting “Save” in your word processor or blogging platform is enough to guarantee you have copyright protection over a work.
But if the law doesn’t require you to have a copyright notice, why include one? There are three reasons for doing so:
- Providing some protection in the few countries that do require one, though no WTO or Berne convention country does, leaving only a small handful of nations. (Note: Most of these nations likely won’t honor your copyright even with a notice.)
- To prevent confusion with people who, incorrectly, believe that works without such a notice are not protected by copyright.
- To eliminate innocent infringement claims (PDF) and ensure that, if you have to sue for copyright infringement, that the maximum damages are available to you.
While none of those three things are likely very important to you as a blogger, given that it costs nothing to draft a copyright notice and takes only a few seconds, most people seem to feel it’s worth the effort.
So how do you draft a notice that will do it’s job? The answer is very simple.
Drafting a Solid Copyright Notice
Typically, a copyright notice needs three different elements:
- A copyright symbol
- The date of publication
- The name of the author
When you put it all together, it should look something like this: © 2012 John Doe
The first part is actually the hardest because many people don’t know how to create a copyright symbol in HTML. While you can use (c) as an alternative, it’s actually just as easy to use the following HTML symbol:
The date can also be a nuanced element as you need to make sure that it encompasses your entire site. This is why most sites use a date range, such as 2010-2012 to encompass all of the work posted.
However, if you get tired of updating your date manually every January, or you keep forgetting to, you can easily have your blog automatically update it for you by replacing your end date with a piece of code.
WordPress users, for example, can use this to automatically insert the current year (latter part of the date range):
<?php echo date(‘Y’); ?>
Other platforms have similar systems for keeping their copyright notice up to date but you will have to consult with their support to make it happen.
The final element, your name, is fairly straightforward though it is worth noting that you can choose to be anonymous or pseudonymous. While being anonymous likely shortens your copyright term it’s still 95 years (instead of the rest of your life plus 70 years) and you can reclaim your full term at any time by coming forward.
Since you can be anonymous, you can actually identify yourself by almost anything, including a pen name, your site title, etc. If you are blogging for a company as part of your job, it’s worth noting that your employer is likely the copyright holder and they should be listed.
However, other than those three elements, there’s nothing that a copyright notice needs to have, but there is one other thing that’s a good idea.
A Word on Licensing
Another addition you’ll routinely see when looking at copyright notices is a line like “All Rights Reserved” or “Some Rights Reserved”.
These lines are meant to indicate the terms that the work is licensed under and whether or not it is available for reuse. Those who choose not to allow reuse (or simply want to be asked about every use) use “All Rights Reserved” meaning that they are keeping and enforcing all of the rights they’re granted under the law.
With the rise in popularity of Creative Commons, “Some Rights Reserved” has become a compelling alternative to many, offering others freedom to copy and share with a set of terms.
Since individuals who are interested in your copyright will be looking for your notice, it makes sense to put any relevant licensing information in there. As such, if you don’t wish to make your work available for reuse, simply add “All Rights Reserved” to your copyright notice. If you do opt for a Creative Commons License (or any other open licensing), include the information for it there as well.
When it comes to matters of your copyright notice, the law has precious little to say. Though there are advantages to having such a notice, it isn’t truly necessary and, as such, there isn’t a lot of guidance on what makes a notice good or bad.
All in all, if you include the needed information, most likely you won’t have any troubles with your notice. Even if you do make minor mistakes, it’s better to have a notice and not be 100% perfect than to not have one at all.
Still, doing a notice well only takes a few minutes and can both make your site look more professional and save you some serious headaches down the road. It’s clearly something worth doing.
Jonathan Bailey founded and continues to write at Plagiarism Today, a site about content theft and copyright issues on the internet. He also manages CopyByte, a company that protects online content, and writes a regular column for BloggingPro.