Core Copyright

Copyright essentials for everyday creators

Copyright, Grammar & Notices

with 3 comments

This post was motivated by a question I received by e-mail about Vol. 1 of the Copyright Myths & Misconceptions series. The question, which was about a post on Tina Rathore’s filling Interstices blog, asked

Is it right to write “© Copyright by tina rathore ” with every blog post? I mean shouldn’t it be “copyrighted to Tina Rathore”? Please explain.

We are discussing this on Tina’s blog (link is http://tinarathore.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/stay-awhile/). Thanks.

Of the options that were presented in this question — using “Copyright by Tina Rathore” or “Copyright to Tina Rathore” — I probably would lean toward using the latter. Ultimately, though, neither of these choices seems satisfying or correct in light of some applicable research I am doing.


I didn’t address grammatical usage in Myths Vol. 1 because I didn’t think anyone would raise it as an issue. (Silly me.) Both “Copyright by Tina Rathore” and “Copyright to Tina Rathore” subtly presume that the proper grammatical use of “copyright” is as a verb rather than as a noun. This is true particularly of the first option, “Copyright by Tina Rathore,” which suggests Tina is the person responsible for granting copyright to herself. I’ll call this “Copyright as action.”

In contrast, “Copyright to Tina Rathore” suffers from a different problem: this phrase suggests that the copyright is something that a person or entity gave to Tina, as if a reward. I’ll call this “Copyright as gift.”

Both “Copyright as action” and “Copyright as gift” are tied up in thorny theoretical issues about the reason copyright exists or is necessary. To summarize, the incentive theory of copyright promotes the view that copyright is necessary to motivate authors to create and distribute socially valuable, original, and creative works, thereby correcting for the lack of creative incentive that might occur if others could freely use the author’s works. A separate theory posits that copyright is a just reward, or gift, to recognize an author’s contributions, regardless of whether copyright would spur creativity.

Copyright theory is outside the scope of Core Copyright’s mission, but since it is important, I will delve into the subject more broadly in a separate post on Copycense.

But, alas, I digress. Back to grammar.

Using either “by” or “to” in a copyright notice suggests that copyright is a verb (i.e. to copyright something, or something given to someone else) instead of a noun (i.e. a state of copyright, or a state of being protected by copyright). According to William Patry, the author of the multivolume treatise Patry on Copyright, the word “copyright” is a noun rather than a verb. In the first volume of his treatise, Patry writes

Contrary to common usage, one does not ‘copyright’ a work. The Copyright Office does not grant copyrights. [Instead,] copyright exists automatically upon creation of an original work of authorship. To take advantage of important benefits such as statutory damages [and] attorney’s fees …, one may submit a claim to copyright with the Copyright Office, which then reviews the application and the deposit copy of the work for compliance with the [Copyright Act of 1976]. If the Copyright Office finds, in its opinion, that the requirements of the Act have been met, it issues a certificate of registration. If the Copyright Office determines that the requirements have not been met, it refuses registration, but the ultimate determination of a work’s protectibility is left up to the courts.

As a result, I think neither “Copyright by Tina Rathore” nor “Copyright to Tina Rathore” is correct. Instead, we place the following copyright at the end of each of our posts:

© Copyright 2010, Core Copyright.

The notice’s constituent parts are:

  1. the copyright symbol (or the word “Copyright, which is sufficient);
  2. the year in which the work first automatically received copyright protection; and
  3. the person or entity who is responsible for controlling one or more of the exclusive rights that copyright provides.

In this instance, Core Copyright controls all of this publication’s exclusive rights for now. Similarly, Tina likely owns all the exclusive rights in her poem and the work on filling Interstices if she has not given any of those rights to another person or entity.

Thus, for Tina’s January 5 post and the rest of the posts this year, the copyright notice I suggest would read

© Copyright 2010, Tina Rathore.

Finally, don’t forget to change the copyright date on your work to 2010, from 2009. (I forgot to do so for Myths Vol. 1; I have since corrected it.)

© Copyright 2010, Core Copyright. On Twitter @corecopyright

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3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the blog post. It neatly expalins all the points..

    well, what if s’one dosen’t wish to specify the year? I mean…most of my poems posted on the blog were written long back…so which year actually goes to the copyright notice? the year of composition or the year when it is posted on the blog?

    Also. what does the getting into the public domain mean? Is it that the content is free to be used by anyone if it once enters the public domain. Does self published work ever gets into that category, if it does, how and when does it?

    thanks again.

    tinarathore

    01/09/2010 at 16:33

    • well, what if s’one dosen’t wish to specify the year? I mean…most of my poems posted on the blog were written long back…so which year actually goes to the copyright notice? the year of composition or the year when it is posted on the blog?

      If there are several works that were created across a span of several years, my suggestion would be something like:

      Copyright 2006-2010, Jane Doe

      I will address issues about the public domain (i.e. works that no longer have copyright protection) in a future post.

      K Matthew Dames

      01/09/2010 at 23:17

  2. Thanks a lot for the elaborate response Matthew. I used to think that ‘Copyrighted to’ is the right use. This phrase is so commonly used!

    I am glad I found this blog (thank you Tina for the link). I have to spread the link about this blog (there are popular blogs on Copyright but yours is more exhaustive).

    Thanks again.


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