How to Display Material That Has a Copyright

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You've completed a masterpiece, and you've had the work copyrighted. The question is, are you finished? The answer is, not quite. That's because you'll want the world to know that you have your work copyrighted and thereby protected. 

How you show that your work has a copyright is more a matter of preference than it is an issue of U.S. law. When you use someone else's work, many authors will require that you display their copyright in a certain format. Likewise, you can require that others follow your specifications for using any of the work you produce. 

For example, you might allow someone to use your work freely for personal use as long as they give you credit in a previously agreed upon format. But, you might want to restrict the use of your work for commercial purposes because that means someone else is making money from your efforts. You might also allow, or not allow, use of derivative works, which are changes that you've made to your work.

When You Use Someone Else's Material 

When you're using material from someone else, it's very important that you honor the author's request as to how she or he wants credit shown, including how the writer wants their copyrights displayed.

Examples of Copyright Formats

You can show that you're the author or creator of copyrighted material in several ways including the following:

  • Copyright (word) + Date:
    Example: Copyright 2008
  • Copyright Symbol + the Date or Year Something Was Created:
    Example: © March 2008 or ©2008
  • Copyright Symbol With Word:
    Example: © Copyright 2008
  • Symbol Alone (when showing reference to something specific)
    Example: How to Copyright Your Publications © written by Anita Newborn.

Sometimes, authors also use the words “All Rights Reserved,” or “All Intellectual Rights Reserved.” However, neither is necessary because the copyright already indicates that your rights are protected.

Do I Have to Show an Actual Copyright Symbol?

You don't have to show an actual copyright symbol. That said, it's always in your best interest to declare your rights to, and ownership of, a particular work anywhere the work is used or displayed. Should you end up having to sue someone for copyright infringement, it will be easier to prove that the person who used your work without permission was aware that they did not have the right to do so. The unmistakable copyright symbol makes it clear that the person was warned and proceeded ahead anyway. 

It's worth noting that a creator of work might not want to put a symbol on their work for many reasons. For example, paintings, photographs, and tangible art such as sculptures and furniture would have to be physically altered and stamped with the symbol, which would alter the art. Metadata and program coding are two other examples. A creator might have written the code or metadata, but it's not possible to stamp the work with a copyright symbol.

It's Always Better to Assume You Have No Rights 

The bottom line is that if you did not personally create something, you most likely do not have the right to reuse it unless it's in the public domain, even if you give credit to the source.

If you ever have any question about whether you can use something, your best recourse is to contact the creator and ask them for permission, and if they say yes, to get that in writing.