In order to avoid the rocky shoals of copyright infringement, the veteran net surfer is well served by an understanding of the basic tenets of copyright law. This section covers the basics of the ubiquitous copyright notice, what copyright protects, and how long it lasts.

The Copyright Notice

It used to be that in order to be afforded any copyright protection, one needed to put the world on notice by attaching a copyright notice to the work. While this is no longer the case, it is still customary to attach a copyright notice on copyrighted works in order to be eligible for certain types of damages. In the copyright notice below, notice the four elements that include the copyright symbol, the term "Copyright", the year of copyright, the name of the copyright holder, and the phrase "All Rights Reserved".

lick on an element in the example copyright notice below.

Copyright 1995
All Rights Reserved

Copyright Term

The term "Copyright" is technically not required in the copyright notice. However, it should be noted that the term "Copyright" may now be used in lieu of the Copyright Symbol in the U.S.
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Copyright Symbol

The Copyright Symbol is generally the standard identifier of a Copyright Notice. This symbol is required in many foreign countries in order for copyright protection to attach.

However, in the United States, the term "Copyright" may now be used in lieu of the Copyright Symbol. This makes notification on ASCII documents much easier to accomplish.

Special Note for Web Usage: An astute reader of this Website, has pointed out that HTML (both 2.0 and 3.0) uses the ISO 8879:1986 "Latin 1" character set by default, which includes the C-in-circle symbol at position 169. In theory you are supposed to be able to use the numeric entity reference to display the C-in-circle. In practice, however, a number of browsers (especially text-based ones like Lynx, operating via terminals using the IBM PC character set, for example) will not properly display the C-in-circle on screen in response to that entity. Furthermore, HTML 3.0 proposes to add a symbolic © entity, and Netscape (of course) has had its own nonstandard &copr; entity for a while.

Consequently, the recommendation is that any Web copyright notice use BOTH the numeric entity and the full word "Copyright" to avoid as many of these problems as possible.
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Copyright Year

Whenever a Copyright Notice is given, it is required that the year of publication be included in the notice.

Name Of Copyright Owner

The Copyright Notice must also include the name of the owner of the copyright. The legal owner of the copyright is not necessarily the author or creator of the work. Works created by employees in the course of their employment or independent workers who sign "Work for Hire" agreements are considered to be creating the on behalf of the employer. Consequently, these works are referred to as "Works for Hire", and the copyright is vested in the person doing the hiring.

As an example, news stories that you receive through a news service such as ClariNet are generally copyrighted by the news provider, whether it be UPI, Reuters or Associated Press. The reporters who actually write the stories are generally working under Work for Hire agreements.
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Reservation of Rights

You can thank Bolivia and Honduras for this one. In order to gain copyright protection in these countries, you must follow the requirements of the Buenos Aires Convention. This Convention requires that the reservation of rights phrase be included in the Copyright Notice in order for copyright protection to attach.
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What Copyright Protects

Copyright protects expression. The Copyright Act of 1976 states that the items of expression can include literary, dramatic, and musical works; pantomimes and choreography; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; audio-visual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. An original expression is eligible for copyright protection as soon as it is fixed in a tangible form.

Consequently, almost any original expression that is fixed in a tangible form is protected as soon as it is expressed. For example, a graphic created in Photoshop is protected as soon as the file is saved to disk. This Web page was protected as soon as I stopped typing and saved the .html file. As you can see, most of the items that you are likely to encounter on the net are eligible for copyright protection, including the text of web pages, ASCII text documents, contents of email and Usenet messages, sound files, graphics files, executable computer programs and computer program listings.

However, not absolutely everything is eligible for copyright. These are items that by their very nature are not eligible for copyright protection:

  • Ideas
  • Facts
  • Titles
  • Names
  • Short phrases
  • Blank forms

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Duration of Copyright Protection

How long a copyright lasts depends in large part on when the work in question was created. Depending on whether the work was created before or after January 1, 1978 could have substantial affect on the life-span of the copyright.

Pre 1978 (Published) The copyright expires 75 years from the date of publication (if the copyright was renewed).
Pre 1978 (Created, but not published) The copyright will expire on December 31, 2002.
1978 to present (copyright owned by an individual) The copyright will last for the life of the author, plus an additional 50 years.
1978 to present (copyright owned by employer of author) The copyright will last 75 years from the date of publication, or 100 years from the date of creation, whichever occurs first.

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