In the 21st century, copyright protection is automatic. It vests in eligible works the instant that those works are first embodied in a tangible format. Many Americans are unaware of that, believing instead that registration and copyright notice are required to secure a copyright. That impression is understandable. For its first 199 years, United States copyright law required authors to take affirmative steps to obtain copyright protection. The first U.S. copyright statute, enacted by Congress in 1790, required the eligible author of an eligible work to record the title of the work with the clerk of the court in the author's local district, deposit a copy of the printed title with the clerk's office, cause a copy of the registration record to be printed for four weeks running in a newspaper, and deliver a copy of the published work to the Secretary of State. Twelve years later, Congress added an additional requirement: copyright owners must place a prescribed copyright notice on every copy of a copyrighted work. In 1909, Congress eliminated the registration and deposit pre‐requisites for protection, but retained until 1978 the requirement that accurate copyright notice appear on every copy of a work. For 176 years of United States copyright history, then, accurate copyright notice was essential to securing a copyright in almost all works. Publishing copies of a work without copyright notice, or with the wrong name in the notice, was fatal to copyright protection.
Intellectual Property Law | Law | Law and Economics
Date of this Version
Working Paper Citation
Litman, Jessica D., "What Notice Did" (2015). Law & Economics Working Papers. 122.