How to Copyright a Document

By Edward A. Haman, J.D.

How to Copyright a Document

By Edward A. Haman, J.D.

Creating an original document takes time, thought, and effort. Whether the document you produce is a work of fact or fiction, and whether it is on paper or in cyberspace, you probably don't want others using it without your permission. To protect your creative work, you need to know how to copyright a document.

Although there is automatic copyright protection for what you produce when you produce it, there are additional measures you can take to secure your copyright. These include marking your document with a copyright notice and registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office.

How to Copyright a Document

Obtaining Copyright Protection

There are many types of creative works that can be copyrighted. What is referred to here as a "document" is an original written work that can take many forms. It might be hand-written, typed on paper using an old-style typewriter, or typed into a word-processing program on a computer. It might be kept in the computer's memory, or printed out on paper. It might be created and sent as an email or other type of electronic message, or posted on a social media site.

Obtaining copyright on a document that you created is simple. As soon as you write it, you own the copyright to it. As the U.S. Copyright Office puts it: "Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." In short, you own the rights to what you write.

Owning a copyright is one thing. Protecting your copyright is something different. There are two things you can do to help protect your work, which are discussed in the two sections below.

Notice of Copyright Protection

Although it is no longer legally required, it is common practice to make a notation on the document to alert others that it is copyright protected. There are several ways this can be done.

You can add a simple notation that the work is copyrighted, followed by the year the copyright is effective and the copyright holder's name. For example: "Copyright 2020 William Shakespeare." It is also acceptable to use "Copr." as an abbreviation for the word copyright, for example: "Copr. 2020 William Shakespeare."

A copyright symbol, which is the letter "C" surrounded by a circle, is also commonly used to indicate that a work is copyrighted. This symbol may be used alone ("© 2020 William Shakespeare"), along with the word ("Copyright © 2020 William Shakespeare"), or with the abbreviation ("Copr. © 2020 William Shakespeare").

To insert the copyright symbol, type the following three characters: (c)

As soon as you type the third character, it will convert to the © symbol. However, keep in mind that there is no magic protection that comes with this symbol. It is just a symbol that can be used instead of typing out the word "copyright." The best practice is to use both the full word "copyright" and the symbol, for example: "Copyright © 2020 William Shakespeare."

There is no legal requirement as to where the copyright notice should be placed. It is usually placed at the beginning of the document but is sometimes placed at the end. You will note that the copyright notice in books is found on one of the first pages, typically on the page following the title page.

Copyright Registration

The United States Copyright Office, a division of the Library of Congress, allows copyrights to be registered. This may be done online and the registration fee is $45 for most documents, although this is subject to change at any time. Registration is not required but may make it easier to enforce your copyright in the event of copyright infringement. For most documents, registration will protect the work until 70 years after the death of the author.

Although there is automatic copyright protection for any original document you create, at the very least, you should place the copyright notice on the document. For additional protection, you should consider registering with the U.S. Copyright Office.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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