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

Although not mandatory, using a copyright notice costs nothing, and may help you win more damages (money) if you successfully sue someone for copying your website.

If you just launched a website, you should consider the possibility that someone might try to steal your content. Perhaps they will copy a photo that you use, or an animation, or a body of text. To help deter such conduct, a copyright notice should be included on your website whenever it becomes available to the public. Although not mandatory, using a copyright notice costs nothing, and may help to deter infringements. It can also help you win greater damages if you successfully sue someone for copying your website.

Form of Notice

There are strict technical requirements as to what a copyright notice must contain if it is to serve its purpose of preventing an innocent-infringer defense. A valid copyright notice contains three elements:

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

It is not required that these elements appear in any particular order in the notice, but most notices are written in the order set forth above. The purpose is to give unequivocal notice of the copyright protection, so that the would-be thief cannot claim that he or she did not know about the protection.

Copyright Symbol

In the United States, either the © symbol or the words "Copyright" or "Copr." may be used. Or you can use the © symbol and the words Copyright or Copr. (This will help make it clear to even the dullest minds that your work is copyrighted!)

However, in those foreign countries that require a copyright notice to appear on a published work for it to be protected by copyright at all, you must use the © symbol (you can also use the words Copyright or Copr. if you wish). So, in the case of websites (which can be accessed all over the world) and software that might be distributed outside the U.S., be sure to always use the © symbol.

Year of Publication

The copyright notice must also state the year the work was published. It has yet to be decided exactly when a website is "published" for copyright purposes, since many websites are updated daily. You should assume that any website that can be accessed has been "published" as soon as it launches, and include a copyright notice on it to reflect the original date.

However, if an update contains a substantial amount of new material, it is considered to be a separate work of authorship in its own right. The notice for such a derivative work should contain the date the new work was published. The notice need not contain the date or dates of the prior version or versions; however, it is common practice to include such dates in the copyright notice. (Some websites will indicate a series of years in the footer, e.g., "© 2017, 2016, 2015").

Copyright Owner’s Name

The name of the copyright owner must also be included in the notice. Briefly, the owner is one of the following:

  • the person or persons who created the work
  • the legal owner of a work made for hire, or
  • the person or entity (partnership or corporation) to whom all the author's exclusive copyright rights have been transferred.

Where to Place Notice

It is legally sufficient to place one copyright notice for a website on the home page (usually at the bottom, sometimes known as the "footer"). This single notice is all that’s required, no matter how extensive the website. However, you are perfectly free to use more than one notice. If you wish, you can include a notice on the bottom of every single page.

Sometimes, website designers turn the copyright notice into a hyperlink. When users clink on the link, they are sent to a page setting forth copyright and other restrictions on use of the site in more detail. This is not required, but may help deter infringements.

Remember, any piece of writing or artwork is automatically protected under copyright law, regardless of whether it is formally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, placing the "©" 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. Should you ever need to sue an infringer, the existence of the copyright notice will help to establish that the defendant had actual notice of your rights. Put differently, he or she will not be able to claim ignorance.

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