What is the Origin of the Copyright Symbol (©)?
This post about the origin of the copyright symbol (©) is based on my answer to a Quora question. See Why are the symbols of “©” and “®” used to identify copyrights and registered trademarks?
Copyright Symbol as Part of Copyright Notice
The copyright symbol “©” can be part of a copyright notice under current copyright law. See 17 USC Section 401(b). (For more information about copyright notices, see Copyright Protection in Once Easy Lesson .)
Copyright Symbol Appears in 1909
Wikipedia provides interesting information about the origin of the copyright symbol more than a century ago (emphasis added, citations omitted).
The copyright symbol © was introduced in the United States Copyright Act of 1909, section 18.
The Copyright Act of 1909 was meant to be a complete rewrite and overhaul of existing copyright law. As originally proposed in the draft of the bill, copyright protection required putting the word “copyright” or a sanctioned abbreviation on the work of art itself. This included paintings, the argument being that the frame was detachable. In conference sessions among copyright stakeholders on the proposed bill, conducted in 1905 and 1906, representatives of artist organizations objected to this requirement, wishing to put no more on the work itself than the artist’s name. As a compromise, the possibility was created to add a relatively unintrusive mark, the capital letter C within a circle, to appear on the work itself next to the artist’s name, indicating the existence of a more elaborate copyright notice elsewhere that was still to be allowed to be placed on the mounting. Indeed, the version of the bill that was submitted to Congress in 1906, compiled by the Copyright Commission under the direction of the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, contained a provision that a special copyright symbol, the letter C inclosed within a circle, could be used instead of the word “copyright” or the abbreviation “copr.”, but only for a limited category of copyrightable works, including works of art but not ordinary books or periodicals. The formulation of the 1909 Act was left unchanged when it was incorporated in 1946 as title 17 of the United States Code; when that title was amended in 1954, the symbol © was allowed as an alternative to “Copyright” or “Copr.” in all copyright notices.
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Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law +1 510-547-0545 dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
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