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Copyright year conundrum

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Thursday January 4, 2007 )

I knew there was something I had forgotten to do as the New Year rocked around – change the copyright end year in the footer of my site pages. Ugh, that’s a whole 60 seconds work that I have to do each year!

OK, so it’s not much; but do we really need to update the copyright year annually on our sites; especially if you’re a sole publisher/site owner? Here’s what I’ve researched.

From the USA copyright office:

Works created on or after January 1, 1978:

For works created after its effective date, the U.S. copyright law adopts the basic “life-plus-seventy” system already in effect in most other countries. A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is given a term lasting for the author’s life, plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.

the term “fixed in tangible form” simply means that the work must be present in a physical way, such as a book, on cd, on a computer disk, or a hard drive – and that includes the drive in the server your site is hosted on.

The Berne convention, to which most countries are signatories to, including the USA, states:

(1) The term of protection granted by this Convention shall be the life of the author and fifty years after his death.

.. and

(6) The countries of the Union may grant a term of protection in excess of those provided by the preceding paragraphs.

So it seems that for many of us, adding the copyright year range to our pages really isn’t necessary; much like the superfluous “all rights reserved” statement I wrote about last month.

Let’s see, the time I spent researching this would have covered the time I spent changing the year in my page footer copyright statement for the next 20 years. It was an interesting research exercise though and I guess will make for a great conversation item when out dining with friends.

As you can tell, I don’t get out much.. nor do I have many friends :).


3 comments for Copyright year conundrum
  1. Thanks for doing the research

    Comment by Vidya — January 12, 2007 @ 2:36 pm

  2. In the U.S, per the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright notice has the following form:

    1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; and

    2. The year of first publication of the work; and

    3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

    You’ll notice in number 2 above there is no provision for a range of years in the notice. Only one year appears, and it is the year of *first publication*.

    If you put a page up on a web site, and posting the page on the web is the first publication of the work, and the page remains unchanged, the copyright notice should also remain unchanged. If the copyright is registered with the U.S. copyright office, and there is a *substantial change*, a new registration should be obtained and the notice changed to reflect the year of the modified version was first published.

    I have discussed this at length with an intellectual property attorney of 30 years, and I believe it is correct. Apparently many people and even large corporations do this incorrectly.

    Comment by Dean Chriss — February 24, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  3. Hi Dean, thanks for all that detail, greatly appreciated!

    Comment by Michael Bloch — February 24, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

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