Copyright Notice Requirements
On March 1, 1989, the United States joined the Berne Convention for International Copyright Protection. Since that date, we have received a number of inquiries from software clients and others asking whether copyright notices are still required under US law. The short answer is: in theory, use of the copyright notice is no longer required, but in practice, the most effective remedies under the U.S. Copyright Act still depend upon use of a proper copyright notice and registration. In other words, to preserve maximum copyright protection, proper use of the notice should be carefully followed. The following guidelines may be helpful:
A. Proper Copyright Notice, Place copyright notices as follows:
1. "© [year of first publication] [Copyright claimant's name]. All rights reserved." is sufficient in all cases. The word "Copyright" (or its abbreviation "Copr.") is frequently included, either before or after the ©, but is not legally required if the © is used.
2. In most cases, the year of first publication must be included to ensure maximum protection under U.S. law. If the date in the notice is earlier than the first year of publication, or up to one year later than the actual year of first publication then the notice is not defective. If the work has gone through revisions in various years (e.g., a new version of a software product), include the first year of publication of the originally published version and, if desired, the year(s) of first publication of the updated version(s). If a revision is substantial, the publication year of the new version should be used.
3. For maximum international protection, use the © and the phrase "All Rights Reserved"
B. Curing Initial Omissions or Defects in Copyright Notice.
In general, failure to apply a proper copyright notice to publicly distributed copies of a work limits the remedies available under the Copyright Act, as will certain defects in the notice, such as omission of the date of first publication. However, initial omissions or defects in copyright notice may be cured.
If an omission or defect in notice is discovered, two steps should be taken. First, add the proper notice to all copies that are distributed after discovery of the omission or defect. This includes making an effort to apply adequate notices to copies in the possession of distributors and retailers but not yet sold to customers. Second, if the work has not been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, make sure to do so within five years after the first publication without notice.
In some circumstances, you may not need to take these corrective actions. Omission of the copyright notice from a relatively small number of copies distributed to the public may not affect the copyright. However, since the limits of a "relatively small number of copies" under the Copyright Act are uncertain, exercise caution in relying on this exception. When in doubt, take the appropriate corrective action. Do not rely on this exception at all where your principal products are concerned, since protection of the copyrights in those works is essential and infringement would be damaging.
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Last updated on 20 October 1995.