Here’s something I don’t get, and I’d love it if someone well versed in US copyright law could explain it to me: Why must a copyright notice include a year? Especially if no notice is required for copyright protection?
Having to assign a year to a copyright notice makes things rather confusing in online media. For instance, In a blog or any other site where fresh content regularly appears, there typically is a date assigned to each item (at least in the metadata, if not displayed). But then… there generally is a visible copyright notice that appears throughout the site and is managed by a template. So if you look up archived content from previous years, you’ll view the older content on a page that bears the copyright notice for the current year.
That doesn’t make much sense to me…
My colleague Steve Outing recently reminded his readers to update the year in their online copyright notice. This made me wonder whether a year is really a legal requirement. So I looked it up. Here’s what the US Copyright Office says:
Visually Perceptible Copies
The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain three elements. They should appear together or in close proximity on the copies. The elements are:
- The symbol Â© (the letter C in a circle), or the word â€œCopyright,â€? or the abbreviation â€œCopr.â€?; and
- The year of first publication. If the work is a derivative work or a compilation incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the derivative work or compilation is sufficient. Examples of derivative works are translations or dramatizations; an example of a compilation is an anthology. The year may be omitted when a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or useful articles; and
- The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner. Example: Â© 2004 Jane Doe
However, the Copyright Office also says that any work of intellectual property is automatically considered copyrighted from the moment it is created. Therefore, no notice or registration is necessary in order to claim copyright for a work:
“No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. …Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is ‘created’ when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. ‘Copies’ are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
So: Considering that the web is a medium that allows a work to be visually perceived “with the aid of a machine or device” (a computer, Blackberry, etc.), I gather that publication to the web — or even just saving a word processing file — constitutes “creation” of a valid copyrighted work.
…Yes, it’s true that registering your copyright helps a lot if you want to actually be able to legally defend your copyright. But even the government acknowledges that this is a legal formality, not a prerequisite for copyright protection.
Seems to me that this is a case where, once again, media-related law has fallen drastically behind the current state of media.
This is why my copyright notice for this site (see the right-hand sidebar of any page on Contentious) does not include a year. I don’t know whether that makes my notice “invalid” in any legal sense — but since my copyright protection doesn’t require a notice, then so what? Every item I post to this blog is displayed with the date of publication. I figure, that’s enough to clarify the date issue.
Even better: A dateless copyright notice means I have one less picky task to perform every January.
What do you think of this approach? Please comment below.