How do I use the copyright symbol?

Learn how to use the copyright symbol on your works, such as websites, books, and photographs.

by Lisa C. Johnson, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

If your business or 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.

Recording sheet music on laptop

What is a copyright notice?

The copyright symbol consists of the letter "C" in a circle such as "©." Copyright symbols are used on books, websites, most packaged goods, including foods and medicines, and more.

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, 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.

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.

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Lisa C. Johnson, Esq.

About the Author

Lisa C. Johnson, Esq.

Lisa Johnson is a Massachusetts attorney, freelance writer, and food blogger. Born in Boston, she currently resides in Q… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.