This post appeared on The Passive Voice on 30 July 2015 as part of their discussion of the (to me) tedious issue of copyright in “Happy Birthday to You”:

Since you’ve been wondering about copyright notice for several days, here’s a brief primer.

Since 1978 under US law and since March 1, 1989, under the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, use of a copyright notice on a copyrighted work is not mandatory.

Prior to 1978, under the 1909 Copyright Act, in the US, any publication of a copyrighted work authorized by the copyright owner that did not contain a proper notice of copyright, all copyright protection was forever lost in the US.

Even though not required for copyright protection, placing a copyright notice on your work is a good idea because it prevents an infringer from claiming that the infringement was innocent, thus possibly reducing the damages an infringer would be required to pay.

So, what is a proper copyright notice for a book? According to Circular 3 from the United States Copyright Office, three things are required:

  1. The symbol © (letter C in a circle); the word “Copyright”; or the abbreviation “Copr.”
  2. The year of first publication. If the work is a derivative work or a compilation incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the derivative work or compilation is sufficient. Examples of derivative works are translations or dramatizations; an example of a compilation is an anthology. The year may be omitted when a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or useful articles.
  3. The name of the copyright owner, an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of owner.

Example © 2012 Jane Doe

In some other countries, the word, Copyright, may not be a proper notice. © is recognized everywhere.

How do you get the © symbol? If you have autocorrect turned on in MS Word, when you type (c), Word will change it to ©. If that doesn’t work, you can use the Insert Symbols command in Word and hunt around until you find it. © is also ASCII symbol 169, so in Windows, if you hold the ALT key and type 0169, © should appear. [On the Mac it is Option-g]

Speaking of (c), which is frequently used in place of ©, particularly in computer programming, PG remembers lots of disagreements in years past about whether (c) was a proper way of giving notice under the 1976 Act.

More recently, that argument seems to have died down. Since, under current law, the author automatically has a copyright as soon as the work is in fixed form without any notice, most attorneys would agree that (c) and © should both be adequate for the purposes of informing someone of a claim of copyright.