Professional copyright statements

Apr 16, 2009 by Tony Chung in Philosophy

Being too busy to say too much, while a good thing for me, is a bad thing for my blog. The purpose of these posts is to provide useful information, either about technology, or lifestyle, my two favourite subjects.

Today’s post is merely a pet peeve I have about the lack of concern people have about the copyright statement at the bottom of their sites and documents. I’ve been using the traditional publishing copyright statement format since my foray into comic book publishing and songwriting back in the 80s. Naturally, this becomes the default format I turn to when I write my copyright statements. It also makes me sound like a stickler about seemingly insignificant details.

However, I believe that using a traditional copyright statement is key to representing yourself professionally. It shows you’ve done your homework, and on a subliminal level, may impact whether or not you get the sale.

What is the purpose of Copyright?

With the advent of digital technology, copyright is becoming a moot issue, paving the way for free content sharing between interested parties in order to quickly and easily develop new works. It is difficult to control product distribution, so it is also difficult to enforce copyright legislation. One could arguably say that copyright serves no valid purpose anymore, and the terms of fair use need to expand to provide more creative options.

Copyright exists upon the creation of a tangible representation of an idea, and is owned by the creator until 50 years past the creator’s (or last co-creator’s) death. I think in the US this definition was expanded to 75 years. This means the creator has legal control over how their work is used during that time. The creator also has the right to decide how their work is to be distributed, whether for remuneration or willingly released so others can use it for free.

I’m not a legal expert, so I won’t go into detail about the legal issues around copyright and alternative licensing mechanisms, such as GNU open source, Copywrong and Creative Commons. This post is only about the statement itself. The definition of copyright provided above shows why some versions of the statement are inappropriate.

Copyright statement: the right way

While copyright exists upon the availability of a tangible representation of a work, a notification of copyright is helpful to provide information to others as to whom to request permission to reproduce. Legally, a copyright statement only needs to include the word and/or symbol Copyright (©), the earliest year of production, and the name of the copyright holder. I don’t believe there are any specific requirements as to the order of these elements. However, there is a standard format that is usually followed.

Copyright © 2009 Tony Chung Creative Communications.

Alternatives include the short form:

© 2009 Tony Chung Creative Communications.

That’s it.

Copyright statement: wrong ways

I’m shooting myself in the foot here, because as I mentioned above, there is no legally “wrong” way as long as all the elements are there. However, the above format follows a standard convention used by everyone else in the publishing industry, and this helps to identify the date of first publication of a work.

Jumbled elements

I’ve seen the gamut of copyright statements in use, and cringe every time. Even the STC Forum (of which I handle backend administration) uses a wrong format. Funny how I didn’t notice it before. I was going to change it, but it serves as a good example, so I may just keep it for posterity.

© Copyright 2009, Society for Technical Communication and named contributors.

As far as wrong goes, it falls on the low end of the scale. It’s only “slightly” wrong, because the symbol and the word Copyright are reversed. Other variants of this are:

© Copyright Tony Chung Creative Communications 2009.

© Tony Chung Creative Communications 2009.

Copyright Tony Chung Creative Communications © 2009.

You know the drill.

Parentheses instead of © symbol

This was brought to my attention when I contacted record companies years ago about song lyrics. They told me that the (c) is not the same as ©, and to learn to create the symbol.

On a PC, hold <alt> and press the keypad numbers 0169

On a Mac, hold <option> and press G

About.com demonstrates how to create even more extended characters.

Missing date information

Some believe that without mentioning the year, it provides more flexibility by not locking in a publication date. These are both technically wrong.

Copyright © Tony Chung Creative Communications.

© Tony Chung Creative Communications.

Extended dates

I’ve even seen the use of an extended copyright year:

© 1995 – 2009 Tony Chung Creative Communications.

But these variants make it more difficult to verify the first publish date for legal purposes. In theory it looks like it makes sense on a website because it demonstrates both longevity and currency. However, it doesn’t hold any legal weight, because the copyright date of each page is on its first representation in its current form.

Copyright is rarely wrong

Notwithstanding all the above, having a copyright statement is better than no copyright statement. It’s merely an indication that you care about your work, and that you invite others to contact you before using it for their own ends. With that in mind, then, a more standard copyright statement is better than one thrown together without appropriate research.

However, I have used the extended date format on websites, for purely longevity/currency reasons rather than legal protection. As the content expert, you need to decide the best option and be prepared to defend the decision.

What are your thoughts? I invite your comments about copyright and its variants.

 

  • So that’s how copyright works. Does that mean that If I hold the copyright, that I can give it away free? and if so, wouldn’t that nullify the need for a Creative Commons?

    • @Caleb: Creative Commons is merely one collection of systems to provide alternate fair use terms. That said, the creator, or copyright holder, has full rights to waive any or all of their own right to the work. For instance, written on the back of at least one Perry and the Poorboys’ CD is something to the effect of: “We can’t stop you from copying this CD, so if you choose to, do so with conviction!”

      There is only a danger in not recognizing you have both legal and moral rights to your creations. Legal rights are usually designed for remuneration, whereas moral rights ensure integrity of intent. This means your song praising the Prime Minister cannot be used in a hate campaign against the Prime Minister unless you authorize it. You may not care if people copy your work without payment or credit, but you should be concerned about your work resulting in negative association towards you.

      I didn’t want to get into a heavy legal discussion when my post was a random thought about my peers using an inconsistent copyright statement, but it is definitely an important issue to address. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • You are right, some people have diffrent outlooks on the subject but i do agree.