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Ask HN: What is the point of “© 2020 CompanyName” in website footers?
209 points by truetaurus 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments
If I simply add this to the footer of my website, does that automatically have legal authority?

According to The United States Copyright Office (https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ03.pdf):

Advantages to Using a Copyright Notice

Although notice is optional for unpublished works, foreign works, or works published on or after March 1, 1989, using a copyright notice carries the following benefits:

• Notice makes potential users aware that copyright is claimed in the work.

• In the case of a published work, a notice may prevent a defendant in a copyright infringement action from attempting to limit his or her liability for damages or injunctive relief based on an innocent infringement defense.

• Notice identifies the copyright owner at the time the work was first published for parties seeking permission to use the work.

• Notice identifies the year of first publication, which may be used to determine the term of copyright protection in the case of an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire.

• Notice may prevent the work from becoming an orphan work by identifying the copyright owner and specifying the term of the copyright.

> Notice identifies the year of first publication

Oh, I didn't realize this. I always thought I should use the current year as the copyright year. My impression was that using a year in the past makes it look like the website hasn't been updated for a long time, or that the website owner doesn't pay attention to detail.

Should I always be using the first year in the copyright footer on my website, instead of the current year?

I just looked at some very large websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), and they all use 2020. Maybe it's just better to follow this convention.

This might be specific to software, based on what the GNU project has to say about it[0], I think you should do it like this:

  Copyright 2014, 2016, 2017-2020
(Meaning the work was completed in 2014, a change was made to it in 2016 and every year from 2017 to 2020 was a "copyrightable year".)

[0]: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-howto.html#:~:text=The%20co...

I feel there is a little product idea in this haha. Like copyright generator based on git pushes/deployments.

I know someone who submits PRs to large open source projects at the beginning of the year to update forgotten copyright values in their codebases in order to get listed as a contributor on github. It's a bit tongue in cheek but on first glance their open source contributions look pretty impressive...

Can just put [first publish]-[now] and save yourself the trouble.

That depends on whether each year until [now] had "copyrightable" improvements. For large open source projects, the copyright notice is placed on each file separately, and it is common to see some files not changing (or changing negligibly) over long periods of time.

Sounds much more like a feature, not a whole product IMO.

That's a hard sale to make around source control. I've written that script a half dozen times over the years, it's a few hours of work and the vast majority of the effort is in tailoring it to the particulars of the project.

Maybe it'd work as a plugin to a content management system.

When the content changes, that new content is under a new, and current copyright. So most of the time using the current year is legitimate.

Of course, it’s probably just automated, since updating the copyright with changes once a year is probably too big of a pain.

Yeah. In PHP, a lot of commercial sites just have date('Y'); after the copyright symbol, this just always gives the current year.

So i guess really one should so 2002-2020

A lot of commercial software such as Windows and Photoshop do this, and it must have been approved by legal. So I suppose this is currently considered the best way to do it.

A range like 2002-2020 conveys two ideas: that the work has been around for a while, and that it is still maintained. Both are important for corporate folks who want an assurance of stability.

I always laugh at the copyright dates on this [1] Australian government website. It claims 2003-2020 but I'm pretty sure it hasn't changed since 2003.

[1] https://www.edge.asic.gov.au/004/compportal/get/ServicesLogi...

Not to be pedantic, but wouldn't changing the year to 2020 itself count as a copyrightable change?

single words / short phrases aren't copyrightable so probably not

The whole work with the change would still be under copyright

Every year at the start of January, a load of slightly too clever for their own good web devs post code snippets all over the Internet showing how you can automate updating your site footer. They are all doing it wrong, for the reasons others have already mentioned, and every year better informed web devs reply to try to correct them. The date(s) shown should be the date(s) from which your copyright runs, and nothing else. A brief conversation with any IP lawyer will confirm this for you. Unlike most matters of law, this one is remarkably consistent from place to place, because the basis is an international agreement that basically every country in the world you're ever going to care about is party to.

There is a small but non-zero risk that by using a later year than the correct one you will actually weaken any legal claim you might need to make. The other party might turn up in court and say, "Look, nathan_f77 only claimed copyright from 2020 on this work, and it's on my site with a date five years earlier!". So automatically updating the date without leaving the original dates in place is a particularly bad idea.

In reality, the main practical purpose served by such notices these days is deterrence: it makes clear that someone specific does claim the copyright, for the benefit of the kind of person who doesn't really know how copyright works and might otherwise assume that because something is on the Internet then it's OK for them to take and redistribute it. They'd lose a legal action anyway, but those are expensive and time-consuming and there may be little to gain from one if the damage caused is minimal, so avoiding it by staking a very obvious claim might be helpful in some situations.

I like to do © LAUNCH_YEAR-CURRENT_YEAR. Showing the launch year is reassuring once you've been around a while. Showing the current year is reassuring in the sense that you're still maintaining the service/content/etc.

It is because the majority do not understand what it means, and just enter a current date because thats what they think it means.

Can not remember who told me about putting the first published date but it was an expert at the time ( we had a lot of copyrighted material).

Every time I go on some website and see that it's ©2016, I am convinced they've done nothing with it ever since.

I usually use a templating engine and just have the server insert the current year there automatically.

It's probably a small risk, but I'd worry that just using the current year could bite me in the ass if someone accuses my site of infringing their copyright and we end up in court.

If mine just says ©2020 and theirs says ©2012, my argument that I created mine before they created theirs is weaker than if mine says ©2008.

At the least it means my lawyers will have to take time to explain to the jury why mine saying ©2020 doesn't contradict my argument. They may need to spend time presenting archives to bolster this, and then may have to spend time explaining how archive.org or similar works, and establishing that those can be trusted.

Each side in a civil trial is allotted a fixed time for arguments, rebuttals, and summaries, so any time my lawyers have to spend in court dealing with my ©2020 is time not available for most important things.

I've always assumed that most page's just use this code:

  &copy; <?php echo date("Y"); ?>

oh ya thats very interesting, i feel like the majority of websites just use the current year

My laziness paid off this time!

> In the case of a published work, a notice may prevent a defendant in a copyright infringement action from attempting to limit his or her liability for damages or injunctive relief based on an innocent infringement defense.

I think this is the big one. Copyright infringement can be a criminal or civil offense, and the civil offense can be "willful", "ordinary", or just "innocent". The more that a defendant can show that he didn't realize he was violating copyright, the more the offense could be pushed towards ordinary or innocent. A big fat copyright notice makes it hard to make that argument.

Copyright is automatic. You don't need a notice, you own the copyright as soon as it's fixed into a tangible medium – basically when you hit save. It can confer some advantages in some countries if you sue somebody for copyright infringement. Are you planning on doing that rather than simply forcing a takedown if somebody copies your website? No? Then don't bother.

Being realistic, you see copyright notices on websites because people see them elsewhere and assume they are necessary and add them to their own sites without thought. Then other people see those notices and assume the same thing. It's a vicious circle. Lots of people copying others who don't know what they are doing.

It's why every year on New Year's Day you get a bunch of people going "It's 20xx, update your footers!" and more people saying you should just automatically show the current year. The copyright notice isn't there to tell you what the current year is – everybody knows what the current year is – it's there to tell you what year the work was first published.

Also, I assume, it’s custom - like starting a letter with “Dear Abby, ...”

Even knowing it’s not a legal requirement, I can’t imagine leaving it out. It’s like creating a painting and not signing it.

What countries and laws/judicial systems are you referring to? I don't think it's the same in all ~200 countries around the world.

178 countries are parties to the Berne Convention, which requires automatic copyright.

Copyright is automatic in all countries that have ratified the Berne Convention. Countries that have ratified TRIPS (which is a requirement for membership in the WTO) also follow the Berne Convention rules. There's a handful of countries that aren't members of the WTO that don't follow these rules. I would assume that enforcing copyright in these countries might prove problematic with or without a copyright notice.

How much of Berne is included TRIPS is interesting and rather telling. Yes, automatic copyright is included. Where it gets interesting is when you review how they made sure there are no loopholes towards intellectual property rights while explicitly excluding moral rights...

it's also now customarily a means to anchor a page, in the footer, to signal the end. it's comforting in a way.

Copyright: %publish_year% - %current_year%

Marissa Mayer, in an early IO keynote, said she put the copyright note at the bottom, though arguably meaningless, to let people know the page was "done loading". She said that in initial user studies she did of the minimalist Google homepage (Sergey said it was that way because "I don't do HTML") people would just sit there doing nothing but watching the screen. When she asked what they were doing, they replied "I'm waiting for the rest of it". Websites loaded so slowly in '98, and ironically were also utterly covered in links and images and crap, that we were all accustomed to just sitting there until the pages fully appeared. So, while she didn't think the copyright necessarily meant anything from a legal perspective, it worked to tell people "there's nothing more to wait for, please proceed."

> Marissa Mayer

Oh yes, the great inspiring Marissa Mayer, the woman who rushed into Yahoo! and banned work from home but for anyone but herself and and had a daycare in her oversized office.

And then proceeded to run Yahoo into the ground.

I'd prefer not to listen to anything she has to say.

Your statement is 100% correct but misses the entire point - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22854475

Even though the answer to your question is "no", many lawyers will advise you to add the copyright symbol anyway. Even if the symbol is not operative by law, it still operates on the minds of potential copyists who don't know whether it matters. In this regard, the copyright symbol is kinda like the "protected by ADT" sign in a front yard: It's not protection per se, but it might serve as a deterrent.

On the other hand, the likelihood that a mere copyright symbol will deter economically-consequential copying from a website/webapp is quite low. Therefore, as a former founder and current law student (and definitely not a lawyer yet), I'd advise you to do whatever the hell makes sense for your business for ancillary reasons. Add the symbol if you think you're dealing with superstitious folks to whom a copyright symbol lends an aura of credibility; omit it if you are going for a clean aesthetic.

Speaking of lawyers, unless a person is prepared to lawyer up, asserting copyright is largely empty. Litigating copyright takes time and money and energy. In typical infringement, the possible rewards will be blood from a stone scale. There are exceptions of course, but they don’t usually involve “the principle of the matter.”

Important to clarify that the answer is 'No' not because it is somehow an invalid way of marking copyright, but rather because it's not necessary.

You, as the author, automatically have copyright for your own creative works. No registration, marking or anything else needed. It also doesn't matter whether you share it or not - copyright is an automatic right.

Now, enforcement is another matter...

Personally, I often use the footer (old, missing, sketchy name, giant company for niche market) to ignore a portion of vaporware/market tests without having to interpret any marketing babble..

Lawyers exist to get paid. We all know, for instance, that copyright notices in source code are pointless (and I mean like an extensive message in every single file) but it's more important for a lawyer to cover their ass from any possibly liability than to make the company more efficient. And of course, it creates work for them.

> copyright notices in source code are pointless

That's true for copyright notices in comments that get stripped out in compilation where the source itself isn't released. But a copyright notice in a no-op variable, or otherwise embedded in the distributed code, can help win a lawsuit by directly proving copying (which can sometimes be a nontrivial effort).

Text in distributed executables helped win a case for Apple back in the 1980s: "James Huston, an Apple systems programmer, concluded that the Franklin programs were 'unquestionably copied from Apple and could not have been independently created.' He reached this conclusion not only because it is 'almost impossible for so many lines of code' to be identically written, but also because his name, which he had embedded in one program (Master Create), and the word 'Applesoft', which was embedded in another (DOS 3.3), appeared on the Franklin master disk." Apple Computer Corp. v. Franklin Computer Corp., 714 F.2d 1240, 1245 (3d Cir. 1983) (Emphasis added.)

Case text: https://casetext.com/case/apple-computer-inc-v-franklin-comp...

Work for the lawers? In my experience, it creates work for the developers, who maintain the automated license checks; rejects changes missing the nessasarry copyright; deal with files that cannot have a copyright notice for technical reasons; notice when they want to merge in a file with an incomopatable copyright.

My understanding is that registering with the copyright office and adding the goofy footer makes it much easier to sue for statutory damages, which can lead to a payout several orders of magnitude bigger than a lawsuit for "actual" damages

I don’t think it’s pointless.

Someone copies a source file, maybe you can argue that it’s accidental. Someone copies a source file and strips out the copyright notice, that shows intent.

It takes an argument by a lawyer in front of a trier if fact before stripping copyright from source files shows anything. Irrespective of details, the wherewithal to lawyer up is mostly what matters because “fuck you sue me” is a sound legal strategy in so many cases. Or to put it another way, unless you have a lawyer on retainer the odds of bring a ne’erdowell to heel are low and one on retainer is probably saying it’s not worth it if they’re worth their salt. YMMV

As mentioned, the Berne Convention means anything that can be copyrighted (creative works: stories, articles, art, etc. - but not data or ideas) are automatically copyrighted.

But in US law, if something infringes your copyright, you can get more damages if the court rules it was "willful" infringement. I'm not totally sure it's settled that a copyright notice makes a difference, but I'm guessing big companies think it can't hurt. (Also keep in mind whether you're as willing as big companies to go to court, or if the most you practically want to do is have a lawyer send someone a polite but firm letter.)

Another thing you can do if you want things to go better in court (and isn't really worthwhile otherwise) is to register your work with the Copyright Office.

There is no need to use the copyright symbol or make other declaration before having copyright protection. Under the Berne Convention, copyright is automatic.


> Under the Convention, copyrights for creative works are automatically in force upon their creation without being asserted or declared. An author need not "register" or "apply for" a copyright in countries adhering to the Convention. As soon as a work is "fixed", that is, written or recorded on some physical medium, its author is automatically entitled to all copyrights in the work and to any derivative works, unless and until the author explicitly disclaims them or until the copyright expires.

For the US, see https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#mywork :

> Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

> ... In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

That "Copyright Basics" links to https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf :

> Applying a copyright notice to a work has not been required since March 1, 1989, but may still provide practical and legal benefits. Notice typically consists of the copyright symbol or the word “Copyright,” the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication. Placing a copyright notice on a work is not a substitute for registration.

I see, so i could remove it for even a cleaner look.

You could. But there are enough people out there who are ignorant about copyright that you’re less likely to end up with violations if you include it.

I don't think the average person understands copyright law at all. You can peruse YouTube and look at all these videos that are re-uploaded versions of other people's videos and they all say "no copyright intended". That is not how any of this works. People learn about plagiarism and "academic honesty" in school, and think that as long as they don't claim the work as their own they are entitled to make money off of it. Turns out: not true.

My ultimate thought is that nobody is going to respect copyright, so I tend to upload everything under some sort of permissive license so that their "no copyright intended" thought process ends up being in compliance with the license. Sharing is human nature. A c surrounded in a circle isn't going to change it.

When YouTube's Content ID system is working as intended, people will not make any money off of their "no copyright intended" copies. Whoever owns the original work will (if they allow it).

Of course Content ID doesn't always work as intended, especially for works that are owned by ordinary people and not the MAFIAA. But I think the basic idea is sound and hope that it becomes the norm. As you said, sharing is human nature. Sharing should be okay as long as both money and credit go where they should.

Also IIRC stripping a copyright notice from plagiarised work is a more severe offense than just the plagiarisation alone.

Plagiarism and copyright violation are not the same thing.

Plagiarism is an ethical offense but not a legal one and isn’t limited to direct reuse. It includes using ideas (even in your own words or representation) without attributing them.

Copyright violation is a legal offense and applies to direct reuse (including various forms of “remixing”).

(IANAL, this is not legal advice.)

See the comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23203451 for details about the benefits of putting the notice there even if not required.

You don’t have to write your name on your property to know it’s yours. You don’t need a (c) symbol and your name to be able to lay claim to ownership.

But if someone takes your property it’s helpful in getting it back if the thing they claim to be theirs has your name on it.

With copyable property, especially where copying might reasonably be expected such as with source code or content on a website, it’s helpful for other parties to know who they should ask if they want to take a copy. (The license may also require that the original owners name be included on copies.)

You can also put the license right there too. Especially if the license is “no license” aka All Rights Reserved.

(C) 2020 gorgoiler, all rights reserved.

I have a super simple explanation for this:

- users see copyright notices on every big brand site, so if you don't include a copyright notice, you risk not looking like a big brand. Adding it is a simple way to look more legitimate.

- everyone else does it, so it must be a good idea and be done for important legal reasons, right?

Because the 70% of the population who thinks it’s necessary won’t take you seriously if it’s missing. Sad but true.

There isn't any, really. Your stuff is automatically copyrighted as soon as you create it, and the ability to recoup damages from infringement depends on your registration of a copyrightable work with the LoC rather than putting a copyright notice on it. However, it used to be that case that inclusion of copyright notice was essential and forgetting to include it could lead to a work falling into the public domain.

In the event that you're litigating a copyright claim it is slightly easier to do so if you have copyright statements littered about, but on the other hand a vexatious counterparty would just get into the weeds of arguing that they were either not prominent enough or overbroad (perhaps because you were using a lot of open source or public domain assets).

1) Google originally added it back in the day to show the end of the page (their sparse search page looked like it hadn't rendered to a focus group.)

2) In the USA, you don't actually need to do anything, but some countries, like Japan, prefer explicit copyright registration, etc.

3) Some jurisdictions in Europe start the duration of copyright by publication and copyright notice helps in those cases.

Same question but what about trademark or registered symbols? You see them on even store signs and I've always wondered if they're the least bit helpful. Is Kellogg's really worried you'll try to steal their logo if they don't put (tm) after it?

Unlike copyright, trademarks have to be defended to remain valid. If you let your trademark become too generic you can lose it [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_trademark

AFAIK you are required to put it if you intend to use it as a trademark.

Back in the early 00’s I worked for a tiny web design agency that mainly did e-commerce (Yahoo Store, post-Viaweb). As you might imagine the first week or so of January was sleepy, people are coming back to work, sales are low, nobody is going to add new products or want changes for a while.

But, people were very keen on getting their copyright notices updated with the new year. It was a welcome trickle of revenue to spend an hour going in and updating it.

Just about everyone agreed that it was pointless, but they still wanted it done.

Copyright is automatic. A copyright notice will not protect you in case anyone copies your work.

If you want to protect your work, submit it to a timestamping service with your name/signature in it. Then you can at least show that at the given instant you were in possession of the work. If another party can't do the same for the same work at an earlier timepoint, then you have a stronger case.

If you do not register your work with the US Copyright Office you can not claim statutory damages in a lawsuit, only real damages.

I keep one at the bottom of the page so that users know not to scroll any further.

A page without decoration of some sort at the bottom looks naked, bottomless, and what better decorator to use than the one used by every single site out there?

There is a non-legal point that I sometimes find useful when I'm browsing: it illustrates that someone updated the website in 2020.

(or at least that they future-proofed it).

In this sense, it shows the website is alive.

To show who’s maintaining their websites. It’s a tell about the company when it still says 2019.

Contrary to popular opinion that year should be the year in which the content was first created and not the current year – unless you deleted your 2019 content and created a new one in 2020.

Looks better and more professional.

Anything original that you write is copyrighted at its completion. There is no requirement to register copyright (in the US at least). The website is copyrighted regardless of the notice, but that notice can alert readers to the copyright claim.

The real answer to this question that people are missing:

- The website you are looking at most likely uses Shopify as a CMS, they add this automatically to any store created with their software.

So no, people don't add this on purpose. There around 500,000 active Shopify stores according to recent statistics so this is why it is so common to see it.

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