How to Display Material That Has a Copyright

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Once you have created something in a tangible way—that is, it's not just an idea in your mind—it is automatically designated as your own copyrighted material under a 1976 federal law. However, many people still choose to display a copyright notice on their work to make it clear to anyone who sees it that it is their protected creation and may not be copied, distributed, displayed, or performed, as applicable, without their permission. Likewise, no one may create derivative works based on the copyrighted work.

Examples of Copyright Formats

There are a few different ways of writing a copyright notice, but three elements are crucial:

  • The word "Copyright "or its abbreviation or the copyright symbol
  • The year of creation or publication
  • The creator's name

Here are some examples:

  • The word Copyright + the year of creation + the creator's name:
    Copyright 2008 Brittany Smith
  • The copyright symbol + the year of creation + the creator's name:
    © 2008 Brittany Smith
  • The copyright symbol and word + the year of creation + the creator's name:
    © Copyright 2008 Brittany Smith
  • The abbreviation Copr. + the year of creation + the creator's name:
    Copr. 2008 Brittany Smith
  • If your copyrighted creation, such as a website, contains material created during several different years, you can use a range of years in your copyright notice:
    © 2008-19 Brittany Smith

Other Variations

A c in parentheses (c) is also acceptable in place of the official copyright symbol.

Sometimes, creators also use the words “All Rights Reserved” at the beginning or end of their copyright statement. It's not necessary, however, because the copyright notice itself is an indication you're reserving your rights to your creation.

If you want to note that something you've written hasn't been published yet, you may put the words "Unpublished work" at the beginning of the copyright notice:

  • Unpublished work © 2008 Brittany Smith

It's worth noting that a creator of certain types of artistic expression might not want—or might not easily be able—to put a copyright notice on their works. For example, paintings, photographs, and three-dimensional forms of art, such as sculptures and furniture, would be visually altered by the inclusion of the notice. The absence of a copyright notice does not mean the creator lacks protection for their work.

Copyright Registration

It is not necessary to register all of your copyrighted works with the federal Copyright Office. However, your copyright for a work must be registered if you want to sue someone for unlawful use of that work.

You should ideally register your work within 90 days of creation. Doing that will enable you to collect statutory damages of up to $150,000 per violation and attorney fees, in addition to actual damages caused by the infringement. Registering within five years of creation establishes in a court proceeding that the copyright is valid and all facts written on the copyright certificate are true.

Registering your copyright also enables you to have a record of the transaction at the Copyright Office in the event you choose to transfer the copyright to someone else.