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The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although it is often beneficial. Because prior law did contain such a requirement, however, the use of notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works. This circular discusses both the copyright notice provisions as originally enacted in the 1976 Copyright Act (title 17, U.S. Code), which took effect January 1, 1978, and the effect of the 1988 Berne Convention Implementation Act, which amended the copyright law to make the use of a copyright notice optional on copies of works published on and after March 1, 1989. Specifications for the proper form and placement of the notice are described in this circular. Works published before January 1, 1978, are governed by the previous copyright law. Under that law, if a work was published under the copyright owner's authority without a proper notice of copyright, all copyright protection for that work was permanently lost in the United States. The Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 (URAA) (PL 103-465) modified the effect of publication without notice for certain foreign works. Under this Act, copyright is automatically restored, effective January 1, 1996, for certain foreign works placed into the public domain because of lack of proper notice or noncompliance with other legal requirements. Although restoration is automatic, if the copyright owner wishes to enforce rights against reliance parties (those who, relying on the public domain status of a work, were already using the work before the URAA was enacted), he/she must either file with the Copyright Office a Notice of Intent to Enforce the restored copyright or serve such a notice on the reliance party. For more information about the copyright notice under the law in effect before January 1, 1978, request Circular 96 Section 202.2, "Copyright Notice," from the Copyright Office. For more information about restoration of copyright under the URAA, request Circular 38b, "Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA)."
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of "original works of authorship." When a work is published under the authority of the copyright owner (see definition of "publication" below), a notice of copyright may be placed on all publicly distributed copies or phonorecords. The use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office. Use of the notice may be important because it informs the public that the 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 interposition of an innocent infringement defense-that is, that he or she did not realize that the work was protected. An innocent infringement defense may result in a reduction in damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive. For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the copyright notice is optional. Before March 1, 1989, the use of the notice was mandatory on all published works. Omitting the notice on any work first published before that date could result in the loss of copyright protection if corrective steps are not taken within a certain amount of time. The curative steps are described in this circular under "Omission of Notice and Errors in Notice." The Copyright Office does not take a position on whether reprints of works first published with notice before March 1, 1989, which are distributed on or after March 1, 1989, must bear the copyright notice.
The 1976 Copyright Act defines publication as "the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending." An offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display also constitutes publication. The following do not constitute publication: printing or other reproduction of copies, performing or displaying a work publicly, or sending copies to the Copyright Office.
The copyright notice has never been required on unpublished works. However, because the dividing line between a preliminary distribution and actual publication is sometimes difficult to determine, the copyright owner may wish to place a copyright notice on copies or phonorecords that leave his or her control to indicate that rights are claimed.
An appropriate notice for an unpublished work might be: Unpublished work © 1998 John Doe.
The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain three elements. They should appear together or in close proximity on the copies. The elements are:
Example: © 1999 Jane Doe. The "C in a circle" notice is used only on "visually perceptible" copies. Certain kinds of works, for example, musical, dramatic, and literary works, may be fixed not in "copies" but by means of sound in an audio recording. Since audio recordings such as audio tapes and phonograph disks are "phonorecords" and not "copies," the "C in a circle" notice is not used to indicate protection of the underlying musical, dramatic, or literary work that is recorded. *The United States is a member of the Universal Copyright Convention (the UCC), which came into force on September 16, 1955. To guarantee protection for a copyrighted work in all UCC member countries, the notice must consist of the symbol © (the word "Copyright" or the abbreviation are not acceptable), the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright proprietor. Example: © 1999 John Doe. For information about international copyright relationships, request Circular 38a, "International Copyright Relations of the United States."
Information via the Internet: Frequently requested circulars, announcements, regulations, other related materials, and all copyright application forms are available via the Internet. You may access these via the Copyright Office homepage at www.loc.gov/copyright. Information by Fax: Circulars and other information (but not application forms) are available from Fax-on-Demand at (202) 707-2600.
Information by telephone: For information about copyright, call the Public Information Office at (202) 707-3000. The TTY number is (202) 707-6737.
Information specialists are on duty in the Public Information Office from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. Recorded information is available 24 hours a day. Or, if you know which application forms and circulars you want, request them from the Forms and Publications Hotline at (202) 707-9100 24 hours a day. Leave a recorded message. Information by regular mail: Write to:
Library of Congress
Public Information Office
101 Independence Avenue,
S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000