The term 'all rights reserved' explained

Protecting your creative work requires a basic understanding of copyrights, including the meaning and use of the phrase “all rights reserved."

by Edward A. Haman, J.D.
updated December 05, 2022 ·  2min read

If you have looked at the copyright notice on a book, magazine, or webpage, you may have seen the phrase "all rights reserved" and wondered what it means.

Here's a basic definition and an overview of how copyright protection is obtained and enforced.

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Copyright basics

Copyright protection is available for various original works, such as writings (books, articles, theatrical plays, screenplays, etc.), photographs, paintings, and musical scores and lyrics.

Original creative work has some copyright protections the moment it is created. But having copyright protections and enforcing a copyright are two different things. To enforce your copyright, the key question becomes: How do you prove you have a copyright?

You can do this in one of two ways:

1. Place a copyright notice on your work.

2. Register your work with the United States Copyright Office.

The safest course of action is to use both a copyright notice and copyright registration. Notifying others that you are claiming copyright protections to your work will discourage many from infringing on the copyright.

If you find an infringement, you may bring a lawsuit against an infringing party in federal court only if you have registered your copyright with the United States Copyright Office.

Copyright notices

Writing a copyright notice follows standard practices, typically done in one of three ways, all of which are very similar and simple. For example, if Stephen King writes and publishes a new novel in 2021, he would notify others of the copyright by placing one of the following notations on all copies of the book:

  • © 2021 Stephen King
  • Copyright 2021 Stephen King
  • Copr. 2021 Stephen King

Each of these indicates that the work is copyrighted, that the copyright begins in 2021, and that Stephen King owns the copyright. If such a notification is on all copies, it would be harder to claim that they didn't know the work was subject to copyright protection. This should discourage anyone from infringing on the copyright. And if someone does infringe, it would be difficult to claim they did so unknowingly.

Anyone reading one of the copyright notices listed above should assume that the copyright owner has reserved all of the rights that come with copyright protection.

All rights reserved

Sometimes you will see the phrase "all rights reserved" as part of a copyright notice. For example: "© 2021 Stephen King. All rights reserved."

This means that no one may use your work unless they obtain your permission. This statement is not legally required, and failure to include it has no legal significance. Since others may not use copyrighted works without the copyright holder's permission, the statement is redundant.

If you include the statement "no rights reserved," it means that you are permitting anyone else to use your work. This is occasionally done when the work is being published for some charitable or public-interest purpose, and the creator wants it to be available for general use by others.

Although the phrase "all rights reserved" is not required, there is no harm in adding it. Someone unfamiliar with copyrights may see this phrase and be deterred from copying the work.

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Edward A. Haman, J.D.

About the Author

Edward A. Haman, J.D.

Edward A. Haman is a freelance writer, who is the author of numerous self-help legal books. He has practiced law in Hawa… 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.