Q&A – What Year Should I Use for My Copyright Notice?

Q.  What date should I use for my copyright notice?  I took a photograph in 2007, filed my copyright registration for it in 2008, and published it in 2009.  Do you always post a copyright notice with the same year or do you change it to the current year?  Why do some people use continual date, such as © 2001-2011?

A. The copyright notice as provided by 17 USC 401(b) should include:

(1) the symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright”, or the abbreviation “Copr.”; and

(2) the year of first publication of the work; in the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying text matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful articles; and

(3) the name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

The year used for the copyright notice is not when you took the photo or when your register it.  Because you publish your photo only once, the year of first publication doesn’t change.

Copyright notices that include several years means that the publication includes copyrighted works that were first published over a series of years.  For example, I have published the PhotoAttorney.com blog continually since 2005. So my copyright notice for the entire blog would be © 2005-2011 Law Office of Carolyn E. Wright, LLC.

There are many reasons to post your copyright notice on or adjacent to your work.  For example, it may stop someone from stealing your photographs, either because it serves as a reminder that the work is protected or because the notice interferes with the use of the work when it is part of the photo.  When you post your copyright notice with your registered images, then the infringer cannot claim that the infringement was innocent (reducing the damages to as low as $200 per work) and the court is more likely to find that the infringement was willful, supporting the maximum in infringement damages.

Additionally, your copyright notice is one of the forms of copyright management information (“CMI”) in the Copyright Act.  CMI “means any of the following information conveyed in connection with copies of a work or displays of a work, including in digital form (such as in the metadata of your photo file):

(1) The title and other information identifying the work, including the information set forth on a notice of copyright.

(2) The name of, and other identifying information about, the author of a work or

(3) The name of, and other identifying information about, the copyright owner of the work, including the information set forth in a notice of copyright.

Section 1202 of the U.S. Copyright Act makes it illegal for someone to alter or to remove CMI from your photo to hide the infringement.  The fines start at $2,500 and go to $25,000 in addition to attorneys’ fees and any damages for the infringement.  So, if possible, put your CMI as a watermark on your photo and in the metadata of your digital file (be careful to not remove your CMI when using the “save for web” function).

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