Copyright Law: How Should You Show Work Is Copyright Protected?

You have a few options for declaring that a work is yours

Couple Working Together
123RF.com

You've completed a masterpiece and you've had the work copyrighted. Are you finished? Not quite yet. You'll want the world to know that you have that copyright. 

How you show that your work has a copyright is more a matter of preference than an issue of U.S. law. When you use someone else's work, many authors will require that you show their own copyright in a certain format. Likewise, you can require that others follow your own specifications for using your works.

For example, you might allow someone to use your work freely for personal use as long as they give you credit in a preferred format that you've decided upon. But you might want to restrict use for commercial purposes. You might also allow—or not allow—derivative works, which are basically changes to your creations.

When You Use Someone Else's Material 

When you're using material from someone else, it's very important that you honor the author's request as to how he wants credit shown, including how he wants his copyrights displayed.

Examples of Copyright Formats

You can show that you're the author or creator of copyrighted material in several ways, including:

  • Copyright (word) + Date:
    Example: Copyright 2008
  • Copyright Symbol + the Date or Year Something Was Created:
    Example: © March 2008 or ©2008
  • Copyright Symbol With Word:
    Example: © Copyright 2008
  • Symbol Alone (when showing reference to something specific)
    Example: How to Copyright Your Publications © written by Anita Newborn.

    Authors also sometimes use the words “All Rights Reserved,” or “All Intellectual Rights Reserved.” Neither is really necessary, however, because the copyright already indicates that your rights are protected.

    Do I Have to Show an Actual Copyright Symbol?

    You don't necessarily have to show an actual copyright symbol, although it's always in your best interest to declare your rights to and ownership of a particular work anywhere the work is used or displayed.

    If you ever end up having to sue someone for copyright infringement, it will be easier to assert that the person who used your work without permission was aware that he did not have the right to do so. An obvious copyright symbol makes it clear that the person was warned. 

    That said, a creator might not want to put a symbol on her work for many reasons. Paintings, photographs, and tangible art such as sculptures and furniture would have to be physically altered and stamped with the symbol, which would affect the art itself. Meta data and program coding are two other examples of works that a creator might own but not want to or be able to stamp with a copyright symbol.

    It's Always Better to Assume You Have No Rights 

    The bottom line is that if you did not personally create something, you most likely do not have the right to reuse it, unless it's in the public domain—even if you give credit to the source.

    If you ever have any question about whether you can use something for a particular purpose, contact the creator and ask for permission.