There are certain requirements for securing copyright protection for your work. First of all, it must be original and in a fixed, tangible form, like a short story on paper or a painting on canvas. It must also fall within a certain category of works, such as literary works, sound recordings or broadcasts, software, photographs, paintings, or dramatic works. Under earlier U.S. law, it also had to have a notice of copyright. But, with the United States' adherence to the Berne Convention in March 1989, the notice was no longer a requirement for works created after that date. Notice of copyright is still relevant to older works' copyright status; and while no longer required, it can provide certain benefits to copyright holders.
For more information and resources related to this topic, you can visit FindLaw's section on Copyrights.
Why It's a Good Idea to Have a Copyright Notice
Whether your work is required to have a notice of copyright or not, it is often beneficial to the copyright holder. It notifies the public that the work has copyright protection, identifies the copyright owner, and provides the year the work was first published. In addition, adding a notice of copyright is easy because it doesn't require the copyright owner to register with the U.S. Copyright Office or seek other permission. Finally, if copyright infringement occurs, the defendant cannot use an "innocent infringement" defense -- which occurs if the infringer was unaware that the work was copyrighted -- if a proper copyright notice appears on the work upon which the defendant infringed.
Please keep in mind that works created and copyrighted before March 1989 were required to have a copyright notice, otherwise they may have lost copyright protection. There are certain foreign works that were still protected even if they did not have the notice, however, due to the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA).
What Is a Proper Notice of Copyright?
A copyright notice generally has three elements. The first element is the copyright symbol ©, or the word "Copyright" or its abbreviation (Copr.). The second element is the year the work was first published, and if unpublished, the phrase "Unpublished Work" and the year it was created. The final element of a copyright owner is the name of the copyright owner. Here is an example of a proper copyright notice for both a published and unpublished work: © 2001 John Doe (published) and Unpublished Work © 2000 Jane Doe.
The copyright symbol is only used for "visually perceptible copies," which are works that are fixed in copies, such as dramatic and literary works. For audio recordings, a "P" in a circle is used because it is a "phonorecord" and not a "copy." This symbol is used to protect the underlying dramatic, literary, or musical work that is recorded.
Whether the work has the "C" or "P" in a circle, the notice of copyright must be in a manner and location that gives reasonable notice that the work has copyright protection. For example, if software is distributed via compact disc, the notice should be on the disc. If, on the other hand, the software is downloaded from the Internet or an app store, the notice should be on the screen when the software is downloaded. As a side note, software and apps are considered to be "visually perceptible" and therefore use the © symbol.
Getting Legal Help
While the notice of copyright is no longer a requirement to keep copyright status of your work, there are other requirements that may apply. An intellectual property lawyer can help you determine if your work qualifies for copyright protection and guide you through the process of obtaining a copyright.