Under U.S. copyright law, the owners of a copyright don't have to display a copyright symbol next to their works. If your business wants to use an image, article or other potentially copyrighted item, you should contact the copyright owner directly rather than assuming it's not copyrighted. There are no standard symbols that denote that something is not copyrighted, but some businesses use Creative Commons licenses or put a note next to an item indicating it is not copyrighted. If you want people to be able to use your business's creative works, consider making a symbol or attaching a note next to the item.
About Copyright Protection
You might think that copyrighting your item creates too many barriers to use, but if you own the copyright to an item, you have sole discretion over how people may use your item. You don't have to prohibit all use, charge a fee for use or even watermark the item. If you don't assert your copyrights to your item, it could end up being widely distributed, and other people could even claim they own the item. Consequently, you should be aware that you can't control how other people use your item if you don't copyright it.
Creative Commons License
A Creative Commons license is an alternative to copyright protection that allows the license holder to set the terms under which someone may use their work. For example, some people use Creative Commons licenses to allow people to use works for personal use only. Your business might use a Creative Commons license to allow bloggers to post images but prohibit businesses from using your work to make a profit. The Creative Commons symbol is two C's in a circle, with a note underneath the symbol indicating what kind of Creative Commons license the license holder has.
Designing a Symbol
If your business produces lots of creative works, consider designing a symbol that denotes which items are not copyrighted. This symbol can be a simple graphic design that says the item is not copyrighted, or could be a design followed by a short note indicating the conditions under which a person may use the item. Copyright holders have the right to set conditions under which an item can be used, so it's fine to put a note saying that people can only use the item for personal use or on websites with a low number of viewers.
No Copyright Symbol
Many people mistakenly believe that, if there is not a copyright symbol, the item is not copyrighted. However, items created after 1978 do not have to have such a symbol. If you don't want to assert your copyrights but also don't want people widely distributing the item, putting no symbol might be an option. People unfamiliar with copyright law probably will still use the item, but large organizations that know about copyright laws will typically contact you before using it.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.