Demystifying Copyright Symbols

Be confused no more!  I’m about to take the guesswork out of how to create and use a proper copyright notice.

You see copyright symbols all the time but may not be sure what the symbol really means.

The copyright symbol, the letter C in a circle, or ©, may be used for any “original work of authorship,” that is a creative work which merits copyright protection. While use of the symbol is no longer required by law, it is extremely beneficial. Including a copyright notice on a work puts the public on notice that its owner is claiming a proprietary copyright interest in the work and if the work is infringed, the accused in the infringement lawsuit cannot feign “innocent” infringement if a proper notice was displayed on the work.

What exactly is the correct format for a copyright notice?

  1. © symbol, “Copyright” or “Copr.”
  2. Year of first publication
  3. Name of the copyright owner 

Example:  © 2019 Kelley Keller

What does publication mean?

Publication is the distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. Offering to distribute copies for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication, e.g. delivering books to a bookstore or making them available on Note that a public performance or public display without distribution does not constitute publication, e.g. displaying a painting at an art exhibit.

Copyright notices have never been required for unpublished works. However, if an owner would like to include a notice to indicate a claim of rights, it would be appropriate to include something along the lines of this:

Unpublished work:  © Kelley Keller

Who is the copyright owner?

The owner of a copyrighted work is often also the author or creator, but in many cases they are different. For example, a pop singer may be the author (or writer) of a song, but a record company may own the copyright (this would have been negotiated in the record deal). Any time one “sells the rights” in a work, the author does not change, but the owner does.

What does it mean when the letter P is used instead of a C in the notice?

You may have seen the funny P symbol on your CDs. For phonorecords or something that embodies a sound recording (e.g. a CD), the letter P in a circle, or ℗, appears in the copyright notice rather than a C.

Where exactly do I put the notice?

The notice should be placed in a way that gives “reasonable notice” to the public. It must be permanent, legible, and not obscured or difficult to find.

In fact, the U.S. Copyright Office has issued regulations to help with this very issue.  To learn more, take a look at

In sum …

  • Use of a copyright notice is no longer required by law, but it is very beneficial to do so and should be used whenever possible.
  • A proper notice includes the © symbol (or word “Copyright” or abbreviation “Copr.”), the year of first publication, and name of the copyright owner.
  • If the work has not been published, no notice is required, but you may include an appropriate notice if you wish, such as Unpublished work © 2019 Kelley Keller.
  • Put the notice in a conspicuous place and be sure it is legible and permanent.