How do I Write a Copyright Message?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
Man holding computer
Man holding computer

The main things to include in a copyright message are the date on which you are copyrighting the item and your name or business name. Depending on which you use, you or your company will own the rights to distribute or copy the item you are protecting. You can include the phrase “all rights reserved,” but this is no longer needed in most areas, although it may help you maintain certain rights if you attempt to file a claim against someone for stealing your work.

You should be aware that no copyright message is actually needed in order for your work to be protected. The moment you finish writing, recording, or photographing something, it is copyrighted by law in most locations. You may be more likely to sway potential violators of that law from copying your work if you included a copyright notice.

When writing a copyright message, you only need to include the date the work was finished or the date on which you are copyrighting it and the name of the person or entity who owns the copyright. In most cases, you would be the sole owner of the copyright. If the work is a written piece that has been published or a musical composition that has been purchased by a record company, the copyright may be partially or entirely owned by the company.

In some cases you may choose to include the name of the piece with your copyright message. This is not generally necessary if the notice is posted on the work itself, but it does not hurt anything if you feel better including it. The basic format for writing the message would be: "name of the work if included, Copyright year by owner’s name." The official copyright symbol, which is usually a “C” within a circle is also acceptable in place of the fully written word.

Keep in mind that if the work you are copyrighting has no commercial value, the chances of winning a lawsuit are slim. This is true even if you do include a copyright message on the work. You would have to determine the amount your work would reasonably sell for in the market. Unfortunately, unknown writers, musicians, and other artists are unlikely to sell their work for much money, but the work of an unknown artist is also unlikely to be stolen to begin with.

One exception to that rule involves the pirating of web articles and other online media. Many written materials and photos posted to the Internet are stolen and resold to other websites. If you have sold or signed over your work to a website, then they may own the copyright and it is their job to track down and deal with content theft. If you still own the copyright, you can contact the webmaster of any site featuring your work without permission and ask for them to take it down, pay to use your work, or add a byline or link to make it known that the work is yours. If this doesn’t work, contact the major search engines and report the site.

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Discussion Comments


@browncoat - I think it's still a good idea to put a copyright message in a finished work though. Major publishers do it, so there must be some point and it doesn't hurt anything.

I know that one of the things that judges look for in these cases is whether or not a person tried to defend their copyright and using a notice might help with that.


@umbra21 - What I find is that people get confused about what they can actually copyright. You can't copyright an idea. You can only hold copyright on an actual product, whether that's a design, or a blueprint or a novel or whatever.

But if you just have the idea that you're going to write about time-traveling pirates, and you tell someone, they are legally allowed to "steal" it. Because a novel is not an idea. Think about how many novels have basically the same story-line. They are different because of the way they have been written and the characters in them.

It's like saying you are going to copyright music about love. You just can't do that. You can only copyright a particular song.


There is a lot of misinformation going around about this kind of thing. I once had a guy tell me that he mailed a manuscript to himself in order to ensure that it was copyrighted, because they would be able to tell from the postmark on the sealed letter that it belonged to him.

At the time I thought that was really clever, but in reality it's ridiculous. For one thing, no court of law is going to care about the postmark. For another, your work is already copyrighted as soon as you write it. You don't even have to put down a notice, except as a reminder, or possibly to inform people who don't know any better either.

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