This is an illustration page of the
Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site

Visitors to this site who are unfamiliar with copyright terminology and context should begin with the
step-by-step tree-view chart for answers about copyright law.

(see illustration at right)

Once readers have visited both the tree-view chart and one or more illustrations pages such as this one, they are advised to learn how courts have ruled on specific aspects of copyright by going to pages of Citations and Court Summaries and by reading the copyright laws themselves.  (The CopyrightData web site has all versions of the United States Copyright Act in effect from 1909 to the present.)

For an overview of copyright law and this web site, visit the One Page Guide

Click below to go to:

First page of Illustrations section Site Map Copyright Law Contact



This section asks the user to look at the copyright notice on the work itself, then to compare it to the rules in effect at the time of publication.

  • Copyright notice was required for copyright protection until the law was changed to make the copyright notice optional for works published March 1, 1989, and later.
  • Absence of one required part of the notice can be regarded as complete lack of notice. (Absence of notice is covered on the next illustration page.)
  • There aren’t provisions in the law for using an copyright incorrect symbol in place of the correct one (generally “©”). Courts have made allowances concerning the symbol, however. A
  • If the notice is dated earlier than date of publication, the expiration date of copyright is calculated using the earlier date. A  A
  • Post-dating by one year under normal circumstances does not pose a problem.
  • A notice dated more than one year later than the date of first publication is treated as if there is no notice. A
  • If the notice lists no claimant whatsoever, it’s as if no copyright. A
  • Where rights have been transferred (by sale, inheritance or otherwise), the notice needn’t substitute the new owner for the old.
  • Notice requirements vary by medium (books and art works differ from each other in notice requirements, for instance), and requirements changed over the years. A  The year date may be omitted on pictorial, graphic or sculptural art (and its accompanying text, if any) where reproduced on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, useful articles. A  Consult the table on the tree-view chart page A
  • A television commercial of a minute or less (or other motion picture just as short) is permitted to place the copyright notice on the film leader, on the permanent housing or container, or embedded electronically or photochemically.  (These options became legally permissible November 1981.)  A
  • If the work consists predominantly of Government work and doesn’t say so, it’s as if there is no notice.
  • If the work contains U.S. Government material and lacks material added by the purveyors of the new work, the work is not eligible for copyright. With proper acknowledgment(s) and new material, the new work is entitled to copyright enforcement (provided that copyright requirements are met in other respects). A
  • The term of a work published under a pseudonym is the same as for a work copyrighted by a corporation, unless the actual identity of the author becomes disclosed “in records to be maintained by the Copyright Office for that purpose” provided also that the filing is by a “person having an interest in the copyright”. This must be filed “before the end of such term” obtained as a pseudonymous work. A
  • Dates in Roman numerals are legal for use in copyright notices. A

The following can help you convert Roman numerals.

Guide to Roman Numerals

M = 1000
C = 100
L = 50
X = 10
V = 5
I = 1
Common combinations:
MM = 2000
MCM = 1900
XC = 90
XL = 40
IX = 9
IV = 4
Unlikely to be encountered*:
D = 500

More multiples:

II = 2
III = 3
VI = 6
VII = 7
VIII = 8
XX = 20
XXX = 30
LX = 60
LXX = 70
LXXX = 80

When Roman numerals are combined:

  • where a higher numeral is placed before a lower numeral, the numbers are added;
  • where a lower numeral is placed before a higher numeral, the first is subtracted from the second.


  • XI = 11 (X = 10, plus I = 1, equals 11)
  • IX = 9 (1 is subtracted from 10: so we calculate 10-1 = 9)
  • XVIII = 18 ([X = 10] + [V = 5] + [I = 1] + [I = 1] + [I = 1])
  • MCMXCVIII = 1998 ([M = 1000] + [CM = 900] + [XC = 90] + [V = 5] + [I+I+I = 3])

* The most recent year in which “D” would be used is 1899 (MDCCCXCIX).   The next year to use “D” will be 2400 (MMCD).  Years which have “D” in the Roman numeral are not among those in which works are subject to uncertainty about the copyright status.

Roman numerals are legal to use in place of the familiar, Arabic numerals.

Instances of Defective Copyright Notice

Refer to the tree-view chart to determine under what circumstances a particular form of copyright notice would be (and was) invalid.  These illustrations provide examples of the faulty types of notices that (as reported in the chart) can (and do) result in copyright protection being forfeited.

Lack of Copyright Symbol/Word/Abbreviation

CharadeMain.gif (9194 bytes) Charade.jpg (37185 bytes)
Charade_notice.jpg (6116 bytes)
Charade (1963) contains what appears to have been intended to be a copyright notice, yet there is no copyright symbol nor the word “copyright” nor its abbreviation.  With just the year and claimant, there isn’t a copyright notice. (The bottom image of the three is an enlargement of a portion of the largest of the three images.)

Errors or Absence of Year

LastParis.jpg (49825 bytes) below: enlargement of the notice shown at left

LastParis_notice.gif (7375 bytes)


The M-G-M movie The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) was released with a copyright notice giving the year as “MCMXLIV” (barely visible in the enlargement, above right).  As that Roman numeral converts to 1944, that earlier year determined the start period for the initial 28-year copyright term.  Thus, from the beginning, the error deprived the claimant of ten years protection at the end of the potential copyright period.  The parent company of M-G-M failed to renew at the end of 18 years, so the movie entered the public domain. LastParis_trailer.jpg (10732 bytes)
The coming-attractions trailer for the movie (above right) contains the Roman numeral for the correct year (The “X” was taken out).  As the trailer was not registered for copyright, this is immaterial.  See the table for converting Roman numerals, above.


MadDogMorgan.gif (33124 bytes) The Last Time I Saw Paris was deprived of some copyright time by its notice giving the year as earlier than it was.  Mad Dog Morgan (1976) has the opposite situation: its notice gives a date 450 years later than the actual.   (Had the Roman numeral date used an “L” [50] in place of “D” [500], the date would have been correct.)  Under American law, such an advance date invalidates the whole notice.  As this is an Australian film, American law does not apply except where allowed by Australian law.
Click for passages of Australian law relevant to the year in the copyright notice for Mad Dog Morgan.


From the 1976 Copyright Act, §406:

“Where the year date is more than one year later than the year in which publication first occurred, the work is considered to have been published without any notice… .

“OMISSION OF NAME OR DATE.—Where copies or phonorecords publicly distributed by authority of the copyright owner contain no name or no date that could reasonably be considered a part of the notice, the work is considered to have been published without any notice and is governed by the provisions of section 405.”   §406(b) and (c); somewhat reworded 1989; the 1909 and 1947 Copyright Acts contained a provision similar to that of the 1976.


Lack of Claimant

New3Stges.jpg (26576 bytes) Stooges on TV (3200 bytes)
The copyright notice on The New 3 Stooges series does not list a claimant.  Anyone offering unauthorized copies could contend that the copyright notice permits him to do so.  A notice lacking this part is invalid, according to law. (above) Close-up view of the copyright notice, as seen in smaller type at above left.
Ask yourself this: Can you say that the copyright notice above excludes you from claiming ownership of the work?  No one is named who could say that you are not the owner.
Twentieth Century-Fox released this feature-length Charlie Chan mystery shortly after the merger of Fox Film with Twentieth Century Pictures, when the title-makers may have had cause to be confused as to which company to name as the copyright claimant.  Prior Charlie Chan movies had sold as Fox Films.  (Bottom image is an enlargement of the bottom of the frame above right.)
BornToBeSold.jpg (21461 bytes)
Born to Be Sold (TV movie, 1981): Here, a production company is named near the copyright notice yet not unmistakably within that notice.  The notice appears to have merely the copyright symbol and word followed by the year.  The phrase “All Rights Reserved” is not a claimant.  It might be argued that the production company was to be taken to be part of the notice.  (Some court cases with similar claims are summarized in the Citations and Case Summaries page on notice placement.)  Without a claimant, this is an invalid notice.  (On a phonorecord, there is greater allowance for placing the claimant name anywhere on the label or packaging, so long as nothing near the pcir.gif (66 bytes) symbol might be taken to be the name of claimant.  This film is not a phonorecord, however.)

From the Code of Federal Regulations, §202(b):

Defects in notice. Where the copyright notice does not meet the requirements of the law, the Copyright Office will reject an application for copyright registration. Common defects in the notice include, among others, the following:
(1) […]
(2) The elements of the notice are dispersed;” (Added to CFR on August 8, 1956, by 21 Fed. Reg. 6023)

Defects in notice. […]
(1) […]
(2) The elements of the notice are so dispersed that a necessary element is not identified as a part of the notice; in the case of a sound recording, however, if the producer is named on the label or container, and if no other name appears in conjunction with the notice, his name will be considered a part of the notice;” (Revision of passage quoted in preceding paragraph, revision dated February 8, 1972, announced in 37 FR 3055)

Conflicting Notices

Fractured_open.gif (28214 bytes) Fractured_close.gif (24549 bytes)
The opening and closing credits sequences of each episode of Fractured Flickers contain copyright notices that differ as to year and claimant.  (The series was syndicated in its intial run, and continued to be syndicated in reruns thereafter, thus the series does not warrant the same claim of having been unpublished as would television programming that originated on a network and was not syndicated thereafter.)  Copyright registration did not take place until 1988.
     The contradictory claims of 1961 and 1963 prove that one of the notices is erroneous.  The fact that each notice is in the name of a different claimant also muddies the informativeness — and thus the validity — of the notice.

Instances where copyright owners might legitimately have options on what to include and exclude  A

RingCurtain.gif (9666 bytes) Lloyd1920.gif (4605 bytes)
In 1919, when Pathe copyrighted this Hal Roach production starring Harold Lloyd, motion picture photoplays were a separate classification (class “(l)”) in copyright law from photographs (class “(j)”) and dramatic compositions (class “(d)”), yet copyright notice form for motion pictures was governed by the generic rules for all works: “either of the word ‘Copyright’ or the abbreviation ‘Copr.’, accompanied by the name of the copyright proprietor”.   Generic notice needn’t specify the year. The following year, the same company changed its policy. This is the notice for a 1920 Pathe release produced by Roach and starring Lloyd.  The law hadn’t changed, but the moviemakers may have realized that they were affected by the passages stating that “if the work be a printed literary, musical, or dramatic work, the notice shall include also the year in which the copyright was secured by publication”.  Films copies are called “prints” so the films may have faced challenged over the notices being inadequate for “printed … dramatic work”.

By the 1960s, when Ozzie Nelson copyrighted the episodes of his television comedy The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, he was going against the grain of moviemakers (including television producers) who in their copyright notices included the three parts of the notice.  Absence of the year invalidates any effort to enforce copyright in the dramatic aspects.

OzzieHarriett.jpg (25432 bytes)
Many movie companies have opted to use the © symbol in their copyright notices in lieu of the word or abbreviation.  The law allowed that “[i]n the case of copies of works specified in [classes] (f) to (k)… the notice may consist of the letter C enclosed within a circle, thus ©, accompanied by the initials, monogram, mark, or symbol of the copyright proprietor.”  Motion picture photoplays were class (l) and thus not within the group classes specified in the quoted passage, yet the group did include photographs (class “(j)”), and motion pictures are photographs, so it was reasonable to extend the policy to moving photographs.

Proper defensive actions

ArcadiMd.gif (26434 bytes) TmbyBssi.jpg (25908 bytes)
Even before motion pictures became eligible for copyright in 1912, the Biograph Company placed copyright notice on their films with the three elements of information.  Production companies registered their works as photographs (class “(j)”) because there wasn’t yet classes (l) and (m) (for “motion picture photoplays” and “motion pictures other than photoplays,” respectively).   Although the generic notice requirements and the requirements for photographs did not necessitate giving the year, Biograph was wise in incorporating it into the notice. Because motion pictures were not a classification in copyright law until August 1912, those productions which were copyrighted were not only registered in another classification, but had their deposit requirements fulfilled by means of copies of alternative form.  Biograph was among the companies to deposit what were called “paper prints.”  These were full-length copies of the film that were printed on photographic paper (such as would be used for still pictures) rolled up.  These could not be projected, and didn’t even have sprocket holes, so the Copyright Office was obtaining a unique edition.
The title frame for Tomboy Bessie (above right), copied from a Copyright Office paper print, shows that on the paper print, the Biograph Company printed the title as black lettering atop a white background, although the film prints shown to audiences were done white-lettering-atop-black.  Barely visible is purple ink where someone at the Copyright Office stamped “Copyright” on the frame to record that the deposit had been processed.  The color of the lettering has no bearing on the validity of the copyright.  Paper prints were generally processed as positive (as opposed to negative) copies, and the reverse-grayscale of the Tomboy Bessie title frame is an exception to the rule; the portion of the film that tells the story of Tomboy Bessie in this particular paper print is a positive copy.  The title frame for An Arcadian Maid shown above is also reproduced from a Copyright Office paper print, and its title too is reverse-grayscale on that print.  I corrected the image to black-background format for this web site.

If the answer to your query amounts to “the work is considered to have been published without any notice”, be sure to answer the questions on the next page, the illustration section on absence of notice.

Pseudonyms and Anonymous Authors

The Copyright law (section §302(c) in the 1976 Act, §23 in the 1909 Act, §24 in the 1947 Act) allows for works to be registered in the names of pseudonyms (for authors who prefer that their reputations be established under a name other than that which is their birth, married or legally-changed name) and as anonymous works (for authors who prefer that the such-designated works give no hint as to which other works are also written by the same author).  The third illustration below shows a Copyright Office form that includes Yes/No checkboxes for claimants to designate whether the work the particular work being copyrighted is a pseudonymous or anonymous work of authorship.

Anthem1.gif (27947 bytes)

In 1946, when this registration was filed, the form did not yet have a preprinted box for designating that a pseudonym was used by an author, so in this case that information was typed in above the name.  At the time of this filing, Ayn Rand had recently begun her rise to the enduring success she continues to enjoy today, so the fact her use of a pseudonym had yet to come to be general knowledge.  The designation “Pseudonym:” followed by this name (the one that appear on the title page of all copies of the book) was typed above where the form allows for the name of the author.  As author, the form gives her legal name, “Alice O’Connor” (her given name of “Alice” followed by her married surname of “O’Connor”).

Anthem2.gif (21309 bytes)

above: reverse side of the page in the first illustration.  Where the form has a box reading “Place [Notary Seal] Here” (followed by the words “(Copyright Act makes use of official seal obligatory)”), please be apprised that the form as preserved in the Copyright Office has an impressed circular seal.  The reduced size and lack of grayscale in this reproduction has rendered the seal unviewable on this web page.

Primary.gif (27310 bytes)

Primary Colors is a novel about a political campaign and was published in 1995. Quickly, speculation abounded that the “Anonymous” named as the author had been an insider on Bill Clinton’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1992.  (The popularity of the book led to a movie version released 1998 starring John Travolta as a thinly-disguised Clinton.)  News professional Joe Klein was eventually revealed to have been the author; an author who already had well-regarded writing credits, he continues to write about American politics (since 2003, he has been publishing a weekly column for Time magazine).

Primary2.gif (27874 bytes)

above: reverse side of the page in the previous illustration.  The Copyright law (§302(c) in the 1976 Act) provides that “person having an interest in the copyright in an anonymous or pseudonymous work may at any time record, in records to be maintained by the Copyright Office for that purpose, a statement identifying one or more authors of the work”.  Doing so provides the author with the benefit of a potentially longer term of copyright — or the detriment of a shorter one.  In the case of a work published under the 1976 Act and published within 25 years of creation, copyright on a pseudonymous or anonymous endures for 95 years from publication — as against a term of life plus 70 years for a work copyrighted in the true name of the author.  Obviously, the wisest move is for the persons with interest to wait 25 years after publication to see if the author is still alive, and only then file a statement in the Copyright Office.  (If the author dies in the first 25 years of the copyright, a life-plus-70 term will start counting down the last 70 while the 95-year term still has more than 70 years remaining.)  As of June 2006, when this illustration was copied at the Library of Congress, the Copyright Office had not received an author-identifying statement about this particular book.


“If the author is not identified in the records of the Copyright Office, the term of copyright is 95 years from publication of the work, or 120 years from its creation, whichever term expires first. If the author’s identity is later revealed in the records of the Copyright Office, the copyright term then becomes the author’s life plus 70 years.”  (Copyright Office fact sheet FL-101, Revised July 2006)

Is it a copy or a phonorecord?

As used on this web site, the term “copy” should be read to mean “phonorecord” or “copy and/or phonorecord” where the context indicates that a sound recording could be meant.  By this usage of words, “phonorecord” is subsumed under “copy.”  However, the Copyright Act enforces a distinction based upon whether a sound recording is “visually perceptible.”

So, just what makes a sound recording “visually perceptible”?  From the words, one might think that the form of the copy can be merely looked at by a person familiar with music and that thereafter the melody and tune is discerned.  If you think that, think again.

FaustRoll.jpg (18871 bytes) RecordGrooves.jpg (44167 bytes)
FoxtrotRoll.jpg (38528 bytes)

The images on the left are piano rolls.  The cuts in the paper prompt the mechanisms inside a player piano to strike certain keys.  The image on the right is a phonograph record, the dominant medium for sound recordings until it was made obsolete by the compact disc — which reproduces sounds through the same general idea of “mountains and valleys” pressed into consecutive grooves.  A person who tried very hard might learn to interpret the zigzag patterns within the grooves to report what sounds are on the recording.  Nonetheless, the Copyright Office regarded the rolled-paper recording as “visually perceptible” but not the groove-encrusted disk.


This page provides examples on Copyright Notice, so the passages on
• “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (movie)
• “Fractured Flickers”
only concern aspects of these works relevant to Copyright Notice.
Other aspects are discussed on other illustrations pages.  All of the aspects are itemized and discussed on the examples page.  (Go there)


You’ve seen the illustrations —
You’ve read the captions —
Now read passages from the law
and read what the courts decided.

Read Citations and Case Summaries on:
Copyright notice (includes: art works; compilations)
Copyright notice: date
Copyright notice: copyright symbol
Copyright notice: name
Copyright notice legibility
Copyright notice: placement; foreign edition; aftermarket removal
Copyright notice: defects which are permissable
Government works not copyrightable (no case summaries)
Pseudonymous and anonymous (no case summaries)
Copyright notice ambiguities concerning movies (no case summaries)

    •     •     •

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