How Do I Use the Copyright Symbol?

How Do I Use the Copyright Symbol?

by Lisa C. Johnson, Esq., April 2015

If your business, or even your hobby, involves creative work like writing, taking pictures, creating art, music, video or even architecture, then copyright protection might be something that applies to you. If you are the copyright owner of a copyrighted work, then you may have wondered about using the copyright symbol.

Copyright Notice

Most people at one point or another have seen the copyright symbol, which consists of a C in a Circle © (represents the copyright symbol). Copyright symbols are used on so many things that we see in our daily lives, that after a while, we may stop noticing them. They are on books, websites, most packaged goods, including foods and medicines. Even at the end of movies and television shows – often with a stern warning about copyright infringement.

While the copyright symbol is often in very small print and tucked away on a corner, the use of a copyright symbol is specifically to get you to notice it.

The U.S. Copyright Office has a publication on Copyright Notice, Circular 3 [PDF] giving background information about copyright law and how to provide proper copyright notice to the public. On works published before March 1, 1989, using the notice was required by law for protection. Generally, for works published on or after that date, using the symbol became optional and a published work can still have copyright protection without it.

However, Circular 3 explains how use of the symbol can be beneficial to the copyright owner.

“Use of the notice informs the public that a work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, the court will not give any weight to a defendant’s use of an innocent infringement defense—that is, to a claim that the defendant did not realize that the work was protected. An innocent infringement defense can result in a reduction in damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.”

How to Use the Copyright Symbol

The Copyright Office provides suggestions for how to best use the symbol. There are differences when it comes to “visually perceptible copies” where the works can be seen or read, such as a book or sculpture, as opposed to “phonorecords” or sound recordings, which would be a CD, record, MP3 file, etc.

The notice for visually perceptible copies should generally contain three elements together, or in close proximity to each other.

1. The symbol © (letter C in a circle); the word “Copyright”; or the abbreviation “Copr.”

2. The year of first publication.

3. The name of the copyright owner.

The elements for sound recordings generally require the same three elements, except the symbol is ℗ (the letter P in a circle) instead.

While the rules may seem simple enough, it may still leave some wondering, “How do I use the copyright symbol?” Below are a few examples of how some major companies use the copyright symbol for their website copyright notice.

© 2015 Twitter

© 2015 Instagram

© 2015 Microsoft

© 2012 Google Inc. All rights reserved.

© 1997-2015 Netflix, Inc.

© 2015 The New York Times Company

© 2015 NFL Enterprises LLC.

© 2015 npr

Copyright © 2015 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

LinkedIn Corp. © 2015

Copyright © 2015 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.

Facebook © 2015

The majority of these companies use the copyright symbol in the front, then the current year and name of the company. But this can vary without impacting protection of the copyright. Some add “All Rights Reserved” as well.

The style of notice can differ a bit between companies and individuals. And as mentioned before, the copyright symbol is generally not necessary. But the function of the symbol remains the same – to give notice that the identified work is protected by copyright.

Take a look at some things around you. Most likely you have plenty of examples of how the symbol is used in your home, office or just about anywhere. It’s just up to you to take notice.

LegalZoom can help you register a copyright online for your book, song, photograph, and other original works of authorship. Start by filling out a simple questionnaire. We will assemble your copyright application and file it with the U.S. Copyright Office and you will receive your Certificate of Registration by mail.