When Do You Need a Copyright Notice on Websites (And Where Do You Place It)?

How to best use a copyright notice to deter infringement of your website content.

By , J.D. · USC Gould School of Law
Updated by Glen Secor ·, Attorney · Suffolk University Law School

If you have a website with original content, your content is automatically protected by copyright. This protection means that others can't lawfully use the original text, images, videos, or music on the site without your permission. If they do, you have a claim for copyright infringement.

To deter unauthorized use of your website content and to possibly win greater damages in a future lawsuit for copyright infringement, you should place a copyright notice on your site.

What Is a Copyright Notice?

A copyright notice is just what it sounds like: a written notice stating that a particular work is protected by copyright, and that you own that copyright.

Some people wrongly believe that internet content is free for the taking. Others know fully well that internet content is protected by copyright but steal it anyway. A copyright notice alerts all visitors to your website that your content is copyrighted and not to be copied without your authorization.

The Benefits of Using Copyright Notices

Every piece of writing, music, or artwork is automatically protected under U.S. copyright law, regardless of whether you formally register it with the U.S. Copyright Office or include a copyright notice on it. However, placing the © (see below) conspicuously on the footer of the website provides a clear signal to internet users that you are aware of your rights and intend to enforce them.

If your copyright notice fails to deter an infringer and you need to sue for copyright infringement, the existence of the copyright notice will help to establish that the defendant had actual notice of your rights. In that case, the defendant won't be able to use the "innocent infringer defense," under which people who take copyrighted work claim that they weren't aware it was protected.

Taking away the innocent infringer defense is important when it comes to calculating what damages you'll be able to collect. For example, when it comes to statutory damages, the court can set the amount as low as $200 per infringement for an innocent infringer, while intentional infringers can be on the hook for as much as $150,000 per infringement.

How to Format a Copyright Notice and Where to Place It

A valid copyright notice contains three elements:

  • the copyright symbol ©, or the words "Copyright" or "Copr."
  • if the website is published, the year of publication, and
  • the name of the copyright owner.

These elements don't have to appear in any particular order in the notice, but most notices are written in the order set forth above.

Copyright Symbol

You can use the © symbol or the words "Copyright" or "Copr." The © symbol is widely recognized, which is why we recommend using it.

Year of Publication

A copyright notice must also state the year the work was published. A website is published when it's first launched. If you subsequently change the content on your site or you reorganize the pages on the site, you can refresh your copyright notice to the year of the update.

There's no hard-and-fast rule for how substantial the changes to your website content need to be for you to update the year of publication. If you regularly add new content or edit the existing content, you should probably update the year in your copyright notice each year.

An alternative is listing a range of years for the year of publication and from time to time updating the year at the end of that range. If you've operated your site for multiple years and updated the site during that time, you can take this approach. For example, a copyright notice of "© 2019-2022 Your Name" covers a site launched in 2019 and all updates and revisions through 2022.

Copyright Owner's Name

The name of the copyright owner (also known as the "copyright holder") must also be included in the notice. The owner will be one of the following:

  • the person or people who created the work
  • the employer in the case of a work made for hire, or
  • the person or entity (LLC, partnership, or corporation) to whom the copyright has been transferred.

If your website is for a business, it's owned by your company if you operate as an LLC, corporation, or partnership. If you're a sole proprietor, it's owned by you individually. Your copyright notice should name the company or you, individually, as the copyright holder.

Adding Language About Restricted and Permitted Uses

You can add language to your copyright notice to reinforce that your permission is required for all copying or to specifically allow certain types of uses (such as, say, non-commercial uses). Read about wording for website copyright notices..

Where to Place the Copyright Notice

At a minimum, you should place a copyright notice on the home page (usually at the bottom, sometimes known as the "footer"). This single notice covers the entire site, but it's good practice to include the notice on every page.

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