Let me begin by clearly stating, "I am not a lawyer" and, as a result, nothing I say here, or anywhere else for that matter, should be construed as legal advice. These are just my thoughts on a small part of the subject of incremental copyright as a result of things I have seen and research I have done. My sources are noted at the bottom of this post.

Incremental Copyright

Google Copyright Notice Surprise

I once again noticed something about website copyright notices that seems incorrect to me so I decided to check it out. When I Googled, how to to indicate copyright I was surprised with the first return Google sent. It was in that little box they put at the top of page 1 of the search engine return pages (SERPs) in which they place what they consider to be the best answer.

This one was from Legal Zoom and, under the title of "How Do I Correctly Format a Copyright?", it stated,

  1. Start your copyright notice with the lower-case letter "c" with a parenthesis on either side of the "c," forming this symbol: "(c)."
  2. Insert a space after the "(c)" symbol and put in the current year in numerals, as in "2011."
  3. Insert a space after the current year and type in your legal name.

Now, this surprised me because I have always thought the correct ("legal") copyright symbol was a c in a circle, like this: © and I am pretty sure I read somewhere on the U.S. Goverment Copyright Office website once that using a letter c in parenthesis, like this: (c) is not recognized in many countries and may result in invalidation of copyright. I cannot find any official indication that it is actually valid in the U.S. either. In fact, I can find no reference to using (c) instead of © anywhere except on Legal Zoom. Anyone else?

Auto-Updating Incremental Copyright

The thing that started all this for me, and caused me to turn to Google in the first place though, was the common practice these days of linking the year in the copyright notice on a website to the computer date() function of the server where it is hosted so the year displayed is always the current year. On January 1 of each year, the year displayed in the copyright notice automatically updates to the new year. I am referring to this as incremental copyright.

This practice is built into the functionality of may themes these days. It seems cool to the theme designers, I guess. I also suspect none of those designers happens to be a copyright lawyer and I suspect none actually checked with one either.

Now, this seems dangerous to me. The U.S. Government Copyright Office says,

A notice consists of three elements that generally appear as a single continuous statement:

  • The copyright symbol © (or for phonorecords, the
    symbol ℗ ); the word “copyright”; or the abbreviation

  • The year of first publication of the work; and
  • The name of the copyright owner.

Example: © 2017 John Doe

Note that it says "the year of first publication", not the current year updated! -- and also no reference to (c) -- I think that is significant and I suspect the updating of the year in the copyright notice may then invalidate copyright on materials created and published prior to that date. As I said at the beginning of this post, I am not a lawyer and I would love to hear from a lawyer who knows about this stuff. Since a copyright notice is a legal declaration, it certainly seems important to me!

I also suspect the Government Copyright Office is likely the final word on these things!

Sources (all websites)

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