What is a copyright notice?

Every piece of film, print, and digital file should include a visible copyright notice to unequivocally assert your legal rights and wishes. A copyright notice typically looks like: © 2020 (creator’s name), preferably followed by contact details such as email or website address, if possible. This information should always exist in your image’s metadata.

  • The © symbol is the symbol recognised by the majority of countries as signifying copyright.
  • The year is the year of registration or publication of the image.
  • “Creator’s Name” is the name of the photographer, or organisation if the copyright is owned by a corporate body.

Why the notice is needed

A photographic work is invested with copyright from the moment of its creation. However, in order to more fully assert your copyright it is essential to display it by means of the notice. This prevents an unauthorisated person or organisation from claiming they were an “innocent infringer” of your work, which could thus reduce any awards due you in a legal proceeding. In the U.S., registration of your creative work with the Copyright Office is strongly recommended.

Suggested format of the notice

There is no legally defined format for the copyright notice, so the format is not critical. We suggest the following be used, wherever possible –

  • Copyright © – Year – Name – All Rights Reserved – Contact Details
  • Copyright – Not all countries recognise the © symbol, instead requiring the word “Copyright” to appear in the notice. Always include the word “Copyright”.
  • © – Always include the © symbol.
  • Year – It is normal practice to enter the year of first publication (NOT creation).

Legal Definition of “Published”

This is an important concept because the date a photograph is first published can be an important factor in determining whether or not a work is fully covered by the maximum penalties that might be awarded you in a legal proceeding.

The U.K. and the U.S. have statutory definitions of the term “published”.

The U.K definition of “published” can be found in section 175 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

The U.S. definition of “published” can be found in the Copyright Office Basics Circular 1, by clicking on the chapter heading “What Is Publication and Why Is It Important?“. Lately, the Copyright Office tends to consider that “published” means any work publicly displayed on the internet, i.e., that is not behind a log-in screen for “private” or client viewing.