The familiar copyright symbol -- a "c" in a circle or © -- is one part of a copyright notice placed on written works to identify the owner of the work and his claim to copyrights in the work. Since March 1989, neither a copyright notice nor the copyright symbol is required under U.S. law to protect new works, although pre-1978 works still require the notice. Still, copyright notices are commonly used even for new works.
Use of Copyright Symbol
A copyright notice placed on a written work includes three elements, the first of which is the copyright symbol. This element of the copyright notice is designated either as ©, the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.” The second element of the copyright notice is the name of the copyright owner -- which is not necessarily the author of the work. The final element is the year the work was first published. A copyright notice is typically in the following form: © John Smith 2012 or Copyright John Smith 2012.
Copyright notices on musical or literary works prepared as sound recordings require the same three elements, except that the copyright symbol is the letter “p” in a circle or ℗.
Location of Copyright Notice
Placement of a copyright notice on the work depends on the type of work involved, but must be done in a way to best alert others to the rights in the work. The U.S. Copyright Office provides guidelines for appropriate placement of the notice on various types of works. For example, the guidelines for books state that the copyright notice can be placed on the title page, “the page immediately following the title page,” “either side of the front or the back cover” or “the first or the last page of the main body of the work.”
A periodical can follow the same guidelines as for a book or include the copyright notice as part of its masthead. The guidelines also address placement of the notice on single-leaf works, contributions to collective works, works reproduced in machine-readable copies, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, as well as pictorial, graphic and sculptural works.
Read More: What Is the Correct Form for a Copyright Notice?
Omission of the Copyright Notice
A work that omits the copyright symbol ©, the abbreviation "Copr.," the word "Copyright" or the symbol ℗ is considered to have omitted the copyright notice on the work. The effect of this omission depends on when the work was published. Copyrights for works published since March 1989 are generally not affected, but works published prior to that time may lose copyright protection if the notice was not corrected within five years of the work's first publication.
Copyright Office Deposit Requirement
Two copies of all copyrighted works published after March 1989 must be deposited with the Copyright Office, including works that do not include the copyright symbol. This deposit does not require the copyright owner to register the work with the Copyright Office; however, any subsequent registration can use this deposit to satisfy the deposit required for registration.
Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.