19 thoughts on Copyright Notice: Is the Year Really Necessary?

  1. I suppose the idea is that printing the year of first publication helps one determine when the copyright in that work will expire. However, it makes less sense now that copyright runs for such a ridiculously long time and its expiration (in the case of an individual rather than a corporate author) is keyed to when the original author died.

  2. V. good question, and I can hardly wait to read the answer!

    I, too, advised clients to update their copyright year, but I didn’t do it from a legal perspective — just a marketing one. My marketing intention of updating the copyright YEAR is to increase the trust factor — it says the site is still alive (albeit, since the first of the year.)

    But in Web 2.0-land, I find myself looking for frequent updates and changes, anyway. A current copyright year just tells me that the site is still alive…but little else. Today, blogs are date-stamped, so is the copyright YEAR a thing of the past?

    BTW, the static sales sites are going to dry up pretty soon. Why have a static sales microsite when you can build a site on the free WordPress platform: and gain better visibility on the search engines, get feedback on your site and products, get reviewed, etc.

    Viewed from a Web 2.0 marketing perspective (and not legal), merely updating the copyright YEAR seems feeble, indeed.

  3. Amy,

    I take an interest in copyright, though that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily a reliable source. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from replying to the two parts of your question:

    Registration is not simply a formality. As the Copyright Office says, it puts the facts on the public record, may enable you to collect statutory damages and attorney fees in a dispute, and can (if done within 5 years of publication) serve as prima facie evidence in court.

    (If I understand that last, then the infringer would have a much higher barrier in order to prove non-infringement or prior creation.)

    Regarding the inclusion of the year, the “form” of copyright requires three elements (the symbol or word “copyright,” the year, the owner of the copyright”). (Under the Universal Copyright Convention, you should use the copyright symbol and not the word copyright to guarantee protection in all UCC member countries.)

    To fail to include the year, in the opinion of someone who’s not an intellectual-property lawyer, is to risk losing your protection on a technicality, like not having your tax form postmarked by April 15th. It’s not that hard to follow the form.

    Your own work is protected for your lifetime plus 70 years. You needn’t worry about whether someone sees a two-year-old post. Even if the year in the notice is off by two years, you’re covered till you’ve been dead 68 years, by which time you’ll feel less stressed about ownership.

  4. Hi Amy,

    I’m not a copyright expert, but I have done some research on it for a book I’m writing. As I understand it, you need the year with the copyright symbol because that determines how long your copyright lasts, regardless of when the original work was created. It would also determine when you should renew the copyright. However, renewal is now optional under Public Law 102-307, enacted June 26, 1992 — if your copyright was created between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977.

    As with many federal laws, it gets convoluted and confusing. And I still don’t understand it clearly. Anyway, I hope that helps.

    I love your newsletter and look forward to every issue — keep up the great work!

    Best wishes,
    John

  5. Amy, this is something that’s easy to automate. If you don’t want to automate with a the server-side script, you can use this snippet of javascript instead (just put the script tags around it):

    var d = new Date(); document.write(d.getFullYear());

    Whether a javascript-based copyright is enforceable is up for debate, I suppose.

  6. The difference of an explicit notice lies in how easy it is to enforce because it’s harder to deny knowing the work was protected. If you’ve done that, you might not get ignored when you do send a letter to the lawyer on the other side. I also suspect that web spiders will distinguish expressly copyrighted materials. If you had no notice, would they balk at programmatically stealing everything you posted (after ignoring your robots.txt file)?

  7. Older work required a copyright notice, new work does not. While your individual copyright will extend 70 years beyond your death, for corporations and work for hire, the term is 95 years from first publication or 125 years from creation, or something like that. For those works, the date does matter.

    The year may also be required for protection in other countries. Under the Universal Copyright Convention, you are required to use the copyright symbol, not the word “copyright” or abbreviation “copr.” I have no clue what else that treaty does, but the notice seems to be important

    If you’re going to use the notice, you might as well use the one that the law requires.

  8. Important point to note: If the year is wrong, and past the actual year, then the copyright is invalid. If it is before, it is okay. Meaning, if the real year was 2007 but you wrote 2008, then the copyright is invalid. Anyone can walk off with your material. If you wrote 2006 instead of 2007, then it is okay. The copyright is valid.

  9. “if the real year was 2007 but you wrote 2008, then the copyright is invalid. Anyone can walk off with your material”

    That’s absurd and entirely incorrect. No one can “walk off with your material” just because you mis-type the year in your copyright notice.

  10. Hi,

    I have a website created when it was 2007.we update the site after few days regularly.

    So, should I update the copyright year when new new year comes?

    Rigan.

  11. If the copyright year is wrong, like the one for this says, “© 2007 contentious.com” just quoting, please don’t sue me.. well, it’s pretty much invalid I think. I love how Copyrights have a date to it.. well, a year but still a date.. (I’m such a moron) because I can know.. for example, a video game has “Copyright 2002″ on it. That lets me know what year it was made, so I can be astounded in 2009 and go all, “Wow, 2002.”

  12. Pingback: Anonymous

  13. This excerpt should clear things up. :-)

    From the US Copyright Office’s “Circular 3″:

    Omission of Notice
    Omission of notice means publishing without a notice. In
    addition, some errors are considered the same as omission of
    notice. These are:
    • A notice that does not contain the symbol © (the letter
    C in a circle); the word “Copyright”; the abbreviation
    “Copr.”; or, if the work is a sound recording, the symbol π
    (the letter P in a circle)
    • A notice dated more than one year later than the date of
    first publication
    • A notice without a name or date that could reasonably be
    considered part of the notice
    • A notice that lacks the statement required for works consisting
    preponderantly of U. S. government material
    • A notice located so that it does not give reasonable notice
    of the claim of copyright

    The omission of notice does not affect copyright protection,
    and no corrective steps are required if the work was
    published on or after March 1, 1989.

  14. It doesn’t matter what year is on the page or work. The year only serves as an indicator of when the work was created. (and as one poster remarked, helps with marketing). It has NO legal bearing.
    WHoever wrote “…If the year is wrong, and past the actual year, then the copyright is invalid…” has no idea what they’re talking about. You don’t HAVE to have a year NOR a © symbol on ANY work or website. Copyright is automatic. I could put copyright 3027.3 if I WANTED and it would have no legal bearing whatsoever. It may howver imply I was completly bonkers. ;-)

  15. Um, no they can’t James. I’ve been involved with copyright and IP for almost 16 years and you’re quite wrong here.

  16. Dave is right, that’s absurd. Your copyright is effective with or without the copyright statement, so a typo in the statement does not void your copyright on the work.

  17. Thanks, Greg, for the “omission of notice” details. That would help explain why I’m now (Nov 2012) looking at a textbook from Pearson (who presumably know what they’re doing) has a “Copyright (C) 2013″ notice in it, despite Amazon selling it back in April ’12. I’m guessing they put in the next year as standard procedure much the same way auto makers will be selling 2014 vehicles in a couple of months.

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