You may be familiar with the practice of placing a copyright claim on websites. Typically it looks like this:

© copyright 2014

I’ve noticed an interesting thing: on the internet people tend to judge the freshness of the website’s content by the copyright date. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that website owners tend to want to have current year on their website’s copyright claim. Well, I have a couple things to say about that, but let me first review some copyright principles.

The basics

A a basic conceptual rock bottom with copyright is that the producer of any creative production owns that creative production. That’s it. If you make a drawing, write a song, write a blog post, etc. You own it. End of story? Not really. The real challenge with copyright is do be able to demonstrate your ownership, to demonstrate that you are the producer.

There are a couple ways to guard your ownership of creative material. First, you can register it with the Library of Congress, which is the legal guardian of such things. This usually involves a moderate fee ($35) and can be submitted by CD. There is also an option to register content every three months if your site is frequently updated. Of course, any copyright claim only includes the content that is submitted with the claim, not any subsequently added material. There is no claim that covers your website and anything you might add to it in the future. (See more info about making a copyright claim)

Another way of safeguarding copyright is called the “poor man’s copyright.” With this method you make a time stamped record of your creative production. For example, make a copy and mail it to yourself.  The envelope will have legally credible date provided courtesy of the federal government and as long as you keep it sealed it will provide evidence of your ownership of the contents. However, note that while this can provide protection from the theft of your material, it does not give you a basis to file for damages. To do that your materials have to registered with the Library of Congress.

Placing a copyright notice on your site

And now back to the question of a copyright notice on your website. Here are a couple thoughts:

  1. Your ownership of the content does not any any way depend on displaying a copyright notice. So it’s really entirely optional. However, you still might want to affirm this just so people know you are serious about it. But I would also suggest adding you intentions explicitly by saying “Do not copy without permission” or something like that.
  2. Copyright is one area in which old is better. The older your claim, the more likely it is that you are the owner. Therefore, if you are going to post a copyright notice on your website it does not make any sense to use the date as a measure of the timeliness or relevance of your website.  Some websites are even programmed to always show the current year, which in copyright logic makes no sense. Additionally, it will very quickly become inaccurate.

if you do want to have  a dated copyright notice on your site, then the best option is to include a date range. Something like this:

© copyright 2008 – 2014

Here the last date could be automated to cover recent additions.

But remember that nothing at all depends on you posting a copyright claim, and this cuts both ways: You don’t have to put it on your production to claim it, and its presence does not prove you are the legal copyright holder either. So if you think it is important to copyright your website, be sure to register it with the Library of Congress Copyright Office.


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