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There are often 3 copyright notice formats one might come across in the footer of website:

Copyright © [Year the site or page was published]-[Year always kept current]

Copyright © [Year this page on site was published]

Copyright © [Year always kept current]

Acknowledging there could be quite a many more possibilities, I hope to just focus on these formats at the moment.

Are any of these more preferable in the eyes of the law, or are there situations where one of these may be more preferable? Possibly a need to use a combination of techniques?

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    Another variation is to add, "All rights reserved." I wonder if that has any legal effect? – feetwet Aug 15 '15 at 23:17
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In the United States, the protection of copyright is afforded automatically to authors of original works. You don't need to place a copyright notice, but it is desirable as protection against a defence of innocent infringement.

The format of copyright notices for visual works is governed by 17 U.S.C. § 401 :

(a) General Provisions.— Whenever a work protected under this title is published in the United States or elsewhere by authority of the copyright owner, a notice of copyright as provided by this section may be placed on publicly distributed copies from which the work can be visually perceived, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

(b) Form of Notice.— If a notice appears on the copies, it shall consist of the following three elements:
(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.

(c) Position of Notice.— The notice shall be affixed to the copies in such manner and location as to give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright. The Register of Copyrights shall prescribe by regulation, as examples, specific methods of affixation and positions of the notice on various types of works that will satisfy this requirement, but these specifications shall not be considered exhaustive.

(d) Evidentiary Weight of Notice.— 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).

You'll notice that the wording of the law is broad, except that it gives the Register of Copyright the power to prescribe positioning of notice.

A notice that falsely claims a later first publication year does not extend the term of copyright protection — if you first published an article on your website in 2010, a copyright notice that states 2015 does not extend the protection.

So:

  • You don't need a copyright notice at all, but it's helpful
  • You can put a later year on the notice, but this doesn't protect it for longer
  • Each of your examples would have the same effect. As pointed out, they don't designate an author. For some reason, I had mentally inserted them. However, for works published after March 1, 1989, copyright protection is automatic and no corrective steps are required. This may mean that a defence of innocent infringement may succeed.

Oh, and also - All rights reserved has a different meaning, essentially addressed in the question What is the effect of saying "we reserve our (client's) rights" when writing to another party to a dispute?

  • None of those formulations includes (b)(3), so while you are right that they have the same effect does that not also mean that on a website they have no effect, because they do not designate an owner? – feetwet Aug 16 '15 at 15:10
  • Actually, copyright protection - at least, in the US - is automatic and for works first published after March 1, 1989, no corrective steps are required. – jimsug Aug 16 '15 at 15:13
  • But the statute you cited states that listing a proper notice eliminates an infringer's ability to raise the "innocent infringement" defense. – feetwet Aug 16 '15 at 15:17
  • Yeah, that's true. While innocent infringement may be a defence and damages could be reduced or negatived, an injunction to prevent further infringement would likely still be granted. – jimsug Aug 16 '15 at 15:21
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    @mad even if you put © 2015, if the date of first publication was 2010, protection will start in 2010, not 2015. So... no effective difference. There's no real defence to this, because an infringer couldn't accidentally believe they were not infringing due to an incorrect date. – jimsug Aug 17 '15 at 21:33
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As explained in the other answer (by jimsug), no notice is required, and any of the forms you list will have roughly equall effect, I think the best practice would be to use a form:

Copyright © [Year the site or page was published]-[Year always kept current] Owner

This most clearly complies with the letter of the copyright act, as the "year of first publication" is provided, as is the most recent publication date of any changed content. It also serves the non-copyright purpose of letting people know the content is being updated. If you want a totally static notice, use:

Copyright © [Year the site or page was published] Owner

Either of these will offer you all the protection that any notice can. Do include an owner's name. You can use a shortened form of the name, if you wish.

Prior to the adoption of the Berne convention by some countries, the phrase "All rights reserved" was required under the Buenos Areas convention to get full protection. This has not been true in the US since at least 1978, when the 1976 copyright act came into effect. It is now harmless, but effectively meaningless.

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