Title 17, U.S. Code

Circular 92, Copyright Law of the USA, June 2003 (PDF File 1.5MB)

United States Copyright Office, Library of Congress Website

Summary of Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

Stanford University Website

What role does a copyright notice play?

Until 1989, a published work had to contain a valid copyright notice to receive protection under the copyright laws. But this requirement is no longer in force -- works first published after March 1, 1989 need not include a copyright notice to gain protection under the law.

But even though a copyright notice is not required, it's still important to include one. When a work contains a valid notice, an infringer cannot claim in court that he or she didn't know it was copyrighted. This makes it much easier to win a copyright infringement case and perhaps collect enough damages to make the cost of the case worthwhile. And the very existence of a notice might discourage infringement.

Finally, including a copyright notice may make it easier for a potential infringer to track down a copyright owner and legitimately obtain permission to use the work.

What is a valid copyright notice?
A copyright notice should contain:

For example, the correct copyright for the fourth edition of The Copyright Handbook, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo) is Copyright 1998 by Stephen Fishman.

In the United States, a copyright owner can significantly enhance the protection afforded by a basic copyright. This is done by registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright office.

When can I use a work without the author's permission?
When a work becomes available for use without permission from a copyright owner, it is said to be "in the public domain." Most works enter the public domain because their copyrights have expired.

To determine whether a work is in the public domain and available for use without the author's permission, you first have to find out when it was published. Then apply the following rules to see if the copyright has expired:

The Copyright Office will check renewal information for you, at a charge of $20 per hour. (Call the Reference & Bibliography Section at 202-707-6850.) You can also hire a private copyright search firm to see if a renewal was filed. Finally, you may be able to conduct a renewal search yourself. The renewal records for works published from 1950 to the present are available online at Renewal searches for earlier works can be conducted at the Copyright Office in Washington D.C. or by visiting one of the many government depository libraries throughout the country. Call the Copyright Office for more information.

Copyright Registration and Enforcement

How are copyrights enforced?  Is going to court necessary?
If someone violates the rights of a copyright owner, the owner is entitled to file a lawsuit in federal court asking the court to:

(For more information, see Getting Permission to Publish: Ten Tips for Webmasters in the Internet Law area of Nolo's Legal Encyclopedia.)

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