In the spring of 2005, a professor handed me a copy of his newest textbook. As I browsed it, I was surprised that the copyright notice had 2006 (the next year) rather than 2005 (the current year).

I assumed it was an advance copy, but I was wrong. The professor informed me it was already for sale and shipping, and that a couple college courses were going to start using it the fall of 2005.

I asked specifically why the copyright notice claimed 2006. He shrugged and said something to the effect of "that's how the publishers always do it."

I know that the Berne Copyright Convention eliminates the requirement for a copyright notice, but are there implications of a future date if there is one?

My understanding is that works fall into the public domain on January 1 after the term of the copyright. Is it therefore normal and appropriate for a publisher to claim the copyright term begins as of the next January 1?

[Off-topic musing: If somebody published a paper in the fall of 2005 that cited something from the post-dated book, should their citation also say 2006?]

(United States)

2 Answers 2


The implications of a future date are complicated.

For works published on or after March 1, 1989, there are no significant implications. The duration of the copyright is determined by the year of actual publication, the year of actual creation, or the lifespan of the author, depending on the nature of the work.

For works published prior to that date, the copyright can be post-dated by up to one year without penalty; post-dating by more than that, per 17 USC 406(b), is equivalent to publishing without a copyright notice. The copyright owner can't recover damages from innocent infringers, and in many cases will void the copyright entirely.

(The reason why post-dating by a year is permitted is that publishers start printing a work in advance of it going on sale to build up a stock and get it distributed. Inevitably, accidents will happen resulting in copies being sold too soon.)


There might be two copyrights at issue, the publisher's copyright and the author's copyright. The author's copyright is effective when the work is created (written). The publisher almost always gains some copyright over the visual aspect of the work, and that copyright is effective when the final book "is created", let's say when it is printed. The publisher has to guess when the final book will actually be created, and we can generally say that that is when final copy is sent to press. Hence the possibility of an ambiguous copyright date in the printed work, since the author does not necessarily transfer copyright to the publisher. In case of dispute, the defendant would have to establish that the text was completed at the earlier data, regardless of what is printed in the book. If the author registers copyright, he will have filled in the presumptively-correct year of completion as well as first publication.

  • 3
    Well, at least for the copyright of the author, the publishing date or the date given in the copyright notice is irrelevant. The copyright expires (in most countries, including the US for modern works) 70 years after the authors death, not a fixed date after creation or publication.
    – PMF
    Dec 23, 2023 at 19:12
  • I don't think the author's copyright in the original manuscript is in play here. It's the publisher's name on the notice, so either it's a work-for-hire and/or the publisher's copyright is in editorial changes and the book design (typography, illustrations, cover, blurbs, etc.). In that case, the term is probably "95 years from the year of its first publication." But they've effectively post-dated the year of publication. Dec 23, 2023 at 23:08
  • Of course, as a practical matter, it doesn't matter much in the case of human authors because the duration of the copyright runs from the date of the death of the human author and not from the date of publication (and a publisher's copyright typically isn't very important and is rarely the subject of infringement actions). The date in the copyright notice is mostly a legacy of pre-1976 (give or take a couple of years given the legislation effective dates) copyright laws when the duration of a copyright was usually calculated from the date of publication.
    – ohwilleke
    May 21 at 22:31

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