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I'm from India and I know that copyright rules may vary from country to country, however, I hope that this question is much general and could be answered based on a general convention.

I'm writing a book and it'll be published this year. It is published by a publisher (i.e., not self-published). But I plan to hold the copyright myself, and include this notice in the title verso page:

Copyright (C) 2017 Nandakumar Edamana

The book may contain pictures from Wikimedia Commons or the public domain, for which I'll include separate notices. However, it also includes some content from my other works and articles published earlier. So how should be my copyright notice?

Copyright (C) 2017 Nandakumar Edamana Some contents are from third-party sources or from the author's earlier works. See Page ? to know more about their copyright.

Copyright (C) 2014-2017 Nandakumar Edamana Some contents are from third-party sources and their copyright details are included in the pages they appear.

Or doesn't that matter at all because if the copyright is held by the author, its duration is calculated based on his lifetime?

Update: It is primarily a technical work, not a literary one.

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Notice is optional

Copyright notice is not required, rather it is a warning to the public that a work is indeed protected and (more importantly) by whom, so you can determine if the author is dead. The US law spelling out duration of copyright, 17 USC 302 says that

Copyright in a work created on or after January 1, 1978, subsists from its creation and, except as provided by the following subsections, endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death

but then

In the case of an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first

The point is that creation and publication are distinct, and the law recognizes this: copyright starts from creation, not publication.

Since copyright duration is expressed in terms of a fixed period after the author's death, it does not matter exactly when a sub-part of a work was created, and giving a year is tradition but legally superficial. Except, of course, in a work for hire, where the author (the company) does not "die", and that is when the date becomes important.

The law of notices

There is also law pertaining to notices: 17 USC 401, which says

a notice of copyright as provided by this section may be placed on publicly distributed copies

If you do decide to include a notice, then

If a notice appears on the copies, it shall consist of the following three elements

one of which is

the year of first publication of the work; or 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 notice does not define the duration of copyright, rather, if related to subsection (d) which says

If a notice of copyright in the form and position specified by this section appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant’s interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages, except as provided in the last sentence of section 504(c)(2)

Basically, the copyright notice precludes an innocent infringement defense. So, following US law, the date of copyright to be included in the notice is the date of its first publication. The duration of copyright is determined separately.

  • 1
    Although this is a US-specific answer, there is a point that I think is applicable in India also: "Since copyright duration is expressed in terms of a fixed period after the author's death, it does not matter exactly when a sub-part of a work was created, and giving a year is tradition but legally superficial." – Nandakumar Edamana Jul 2 '17 at 0:42
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The point of copyright notice is to state who the copyright belongs to, and from when. The overall work has its date based on author lifetime, but this may be different for parts of the work, and it is misleading to state the wrong dates or holders for part of the work, especially if they are licensed or are public domain.

Your best option is to list the dates and copyright holders of all material either individually or as a range (like in your example; reprints of some books I own have a list of dates of each edition, and specify one as "First printed in ...") and then note licensed content in place where necessary (i.e. where they differ from the copyright holder of the overall work).

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If you write "Copyright 2017" then I can check the law books, hope nothing changes, and find out when I can use your material freely. Let's say 70 years later, in 2087 (just to put some numbers here).

If you have material that was published earlier, say 2014, I would be allowed to use that in 2084. If you then write "Copyright 2017" you are tricking me into thinking that nothing could be used freely in 2084 or 2085, which isn't the truth. So you are claiming rights that you don't have.

The correct thing is to write Copyright 2014-2017, or the individual years. Not that it matters much because in 2084 probably nobody is interested in that material anymore.

  • In both the US and India, and in most other countries, copyright does not expire based on the year of publication, but based on the author's death date. For the US this is true of work created in 1978 or later. Notices for included or quoted work are as much in the nature of attribution as anything else. A range of dates may be used when the work was created in stages, or revised, but should not be sued based on the included works of other authors. it is not true that a copyright notice with a wrong year is "claiming rights that you don't have" – David Siegel Dec 12 '18 at 2:49

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