How Do I Correctly Format a Copyright?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How Do I Correctly Format a Copyright?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

If you create an original written work, musical composition, artistic expression, computer program, website, architectural work, or other creative expression, you own the copyright in your creation as soon as you fix your ideas in a tangible or perceivable form. Although not required, using a copyright notice lets others know you intend to enforce your rights should someone use your work without authorization. You also do not need to register your creation with the U.S. Copyright Office, though doing so allows you to take legal action after infringement occurs.

Laptop keyboard with a red button labeled "copyright"

If you choose to add a copyright notice to your work, whether registered or not, follow these steps to create and properly format it.

1. Confirm your work is eligible for copyright protection.

Before creating a notice, make sure the work you want to put it on is copyrightable. While you cannot copyright an idea, you can protect the expression of that idea. Some common examples of things you can copyright include:

  • Books
  • Short stories
  • Poems
  • Plays
  • Screenplays
  • Architectural works
  • Sculptures
  • Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Musical compositions
  • Website copy
  • Audiovisual works
  • Computer programs

2. Create the copyright notice.

Your copyright notice for your original written works and other visually perceptible works should include the following elements:

  • The copyright symbol (©), the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."
  • The year you first created and published the work.
  • The person or entity that owns the copyright.
  • You may, but do not need to, include a statement of rights. For example, some copyright notices include the phrases "all rights reserved" or "some rights reserved."

If Jane Doe writes a short story in 2019 and wants to include a copyright notice, it may look like this:

© 2019, Jane Doe. All rights reserved.

3. Place your notice on your work.

Include your copyright notice on your work in a place and manner that reasonably gives others notice of your copyright.

If you are copyrighting website pages, place the copyright notice at the bottom of each page. For a book, put it in a prominent place. This is typically on a page at the front of the book. Placement can vary; the key is to put your notice where others are likely to see it.

4. Consider registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

You have protection whether or not you register your copyright. However, registration paves the way for you to defend against unlawful use of your works and receive statutory damages from the person or company that infringed on your rights. When you choose to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you can do so electronically or with a paper registration application.

Just as you do not need to register your copyrighted work to obtain protection, you do not need to include a formal copyright notice on your creation. However, doing so puts others on notice that your composition or work is not in the public domain.

To protect your copyrightable creation, you may want to work with an online service provider that can help you register your work. Another option is to hire an intellectual property attorney in your state.

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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