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.
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 is copyrighted the moment it is created. But having a copyright and protecting a copyright are two different things. To protect your copyright, the key question becomes: How do you prove you have a copyright?
You can do this in one of two ways:
- Place a copyright notice on your work.
- 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 the work is copyrighted will discourage most from infringing on the copyright.
If you find an infringement, you may bring a lawsuit against the infringing party. Part of a copyright-infringement lawsuit involves proving that you own the copyright. This can be done by showing that a copyright notice is on your work, by showing the work is registered with the Copyright Office or both.
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, no one can 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.