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Understanding Copyright
By rps, Section Diaries
Posted on Tue Mar 4th, 2003 at 01:25:21 GMT

Recently it has come to my attention that very few people who use Copyright-- actually understand it.

After dicussing it with some people, I found that most people simply copy notices that they have seen elseware to make their work look more "professional". Seeing as the GNU GPL, and Copyleft, gain their strength through Copyright, it may be a good idea to create a Copyright How-to. So I'll attempt to start one here.

 

Understanding Copyright
By Ray P. Soucy

What most people don't understand about copyright is that there are two major types of copyright restrictions. You can hold a registered copyright (which is registered with the United States Library of Congress) or you can hold a commons copyright. A commons copyright is automatic. You simply need to provide a notice.

There are some key things to consider when applying a copyright notice however. A registed copyright notice is alredy registerd, so it can, and often is, be a little shorter. For a commons copyright to hold it's weight legaly though, you must create a complete notice.

The first major mistake I see with copyright notices, is the syntax of the notice itself. You must begin a copyright notice with one of the following:

  • ©
  • (C)
  • Copyright
  • Copr.

Any other variations are incorrect (e.g. copyright (c)et. al.). It is unwriten in the copyright laws that you should use both the word "Copyright" followed by the symbol, but previous court cases have shown that the use of the word prepended to the symbol (the first time it is used) will prevent any misunderstanding or misinturpritation of the mark.

Following the mark, the year-date of the first publication must be present. This is not a norm, it is the law. Following the date must be the legal identity of the copyright holder. This can either be an individual, or a corporation.

For example; my copyright notice would look like this:

Copyright (C) 2003, Ray P. Soucy

This would be fine, except for the fact that I do not list which "Ray P. Soucy" I speak of. For any individual, you should put the address of residence following the name of the holder, the address can be shortened to simply the city and state if you are sure that you are the only one residing there. For corporations, unless you are federally registered, you must include the state, it is sometimes also useful to list the city, but not necessairy since only one corporation can exsist under a given name in a single state.

So the notice should be as follows:

Copyright © 2003, Ray P. Soucy, Frenchville, ME.

And for a corporation:

Copyright © 2003, Free Software Foundation, Inc., Boston, MA.

The second major mistake that people make when writing copyright notices is to list ranges of dates. One of my friends commented to me regarding this discussion that there are certain software products that list copyright dates as "1984-2006" right now. Obviously this is nonsence, as we are only in 2003, but the muiti-billion dollar corporation that uses notices like this help spread a misconception with copyright.

Copyright currently lasts for 70 years after the death of the last living author. (I wont get into the discussion on why this "limited time" of potentially 150 years is ludicrious, but as you can see, it's certainly longer than it's origional intension.). When listing a copyright notice, the laws say you must list the first year that the work was published. If the work has been modified, you can simply treat the modified work as a seperate work completely and only list the most recent date of copyright; however, if the work is under the same title, a webpage for example, and is updated each year, you must list the year of each copyright. The clearest way to do this from a legal standpoint is a notice as follows:

Copyright © 2003, Free Software Foundation, Inc., Boston, MA.
Prior editions © 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, Free Software Foundation, Inc., Boston, MA.

Note here that I only used the word copyright once, and the symbol in all other places.

You should also provide a similar statment when providing a notice for work that is held by more than one copyright holder, e.g.

Copyright © 2003, Ray P. Soucy, Frenchville, ME.
Prior editions © 2000, 2001 John Q. Adams, Boston, MA.

or

Copyright © 2003, Ray P. Soucy, Frenchville, ME.
Portions © 2002, 2003, James N. Martin III, Jackson, FL.

There are also two other marks for copyright, (P), and (M). (P) is the copyright mark for phonorecordings, or audio, and (M) is used for "masked works", or the term congress uses to describe microprocessors. To most people, (M) will not be useful, but (P) is often overlooked. For any type of audio media, the (P) symbol must be present, standard copyright does not cover audio works. It is a common misconception that a "©" will give copyright to an audio file. To apply a notice for audio recordings it is usually best to simply list the (P) after the copyright symbol:

Copyright (C)(P) 2003, Not the Moon Productions, Inc., Portland, ME.

This will cover both audio recordings and any lyrics or non-audio content as well.

After the copyright notice, you should list the terms and conditions to the user. Please avoid using the ambigious term "All Rights Reserved", I have even seen the term added to lines that say content is licensed under the GPL. That statement is not compatible with the GPL, and is very restrictive to users-- in some cases, it could be argued that a user does not even have the right to read your content with that line.

The most important attributes of a copyright notice are clarity, and syntax. You should make sure that you don't use ambigious names such as "PHP-Nuke" that will have no legal weight in a court of law. The best solution in my view is to assign copyright to the Free Software Foundation, Inc. when dealing with software and the GPL, they have people who can actually enforce it, and the experience behind them.

As a last note, here is the copyright notice I would recomend for a webpage (in this case for the FSF)

Copyright © 2003, Free Software Foundation, Inc., Boston, MA.
Prior editions © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, Free Software Foundation, Inc., Boston, MA.

This article is distributed under a Copyleft License. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Where "Copyleft License" links to <http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/copyleft.html>

Hope this was informative, if I was unclear on anything let me know, as I plan t try and write up a more official paper on Copyright in the near future.

Copyright © 2003, Ray P. Soucy, Frenchville, ME.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

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Understanding Copyright | 8 comments (8 topical, editorial) | Post A Comment
[new] "All Rights Reserved" (#1)
by a member of the hurd (#-1) on Tue Mar 4th, 2003 at 17:28:33 GMT

More info about "All Rights Reserved" would be nice.

[ Reply to This ]


[new] This US law is strange. (#2)
by a member of the hurd (#-1) on Tue Mar 4th, 2003 at 21:52:01 GMT

A little note would've been nice, that the
information given only fits to the USA.
When I remember correct, this (C) and copyright
and things are only a short wording for
"Written by ..." and otherwise of no meaning
in almost any other state of the earth.

One should note that missing of such a copyright
note does not change the monopoly state grants
its creator. Having a piece of code with no
copyright notice or even with no licence attached
just makes it unusable, as long as one can not
contact the author to ask for permission and gets
it.

[ Reply to This ]


[new] Assign copyrigth to FSF (#7)
by a member of the hurd (#-1) on Sun Mar 16th, 2003 at 14:26:20 GMT

Can anybody assign copyrigth to the Free Software Foundation (or someone else), or do you need permission from them first?

[ Reply to This ]


 
[new] Assign copyrigth to FSF (#8)
by a member of the hurd (#-1) on Sun Mar 16th, 2003 at 14:27:41 GMT

Can anybody assign copyrigth to the Free Software Foundation (or someone else), or do you need permission from them first?

[ Reply to This ]


 
Understanding Copyright | 8 comments (8 topical, editorial) | Post A Comment
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Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved. Images of gnu:s in the logo are © Free Software Foundation, Inc and distributed under the GNU General Public License. Comments are copyright by thir respective owner. All other material are © 2002 .