We get asked all the time about the copyright notices on CDs. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what is required and what exactly is meant by the “c in the circle” and the “p in the circle”. So let’s lift the veil on this issue.
There are two copyrights in music: the sound recording (which in general is owned by the record label) and the musical composition, including the lyrics (owned by the publishers).
But there is also a separate copyright for the CD packaging and artwork.
The circle C refers to the packaging and artwork. This notice should contain all of the following elements:
- The symbol ©, or the word “Copyright,” or “Copr.”
- The year of first publication
- The name of the owner of the copyright in the work
Example: © 1983 ABC Record Co.
(The owner of the packaging would normally be the record company that specially-commissioned or otherwise acquired the work through an assignment of rights.)
The circle P refers to the sound recording (i.e. phonorecord). The notice for a sound recording should contain all of the following:
- The symbol (p)
- The year of first publication of the sound recording
- The name of the owner of the copyright in the sound recording
Example: (p) 1983 ABC Record Co.
(Again, the owner of the packaging would normally be the record company that specially-commissioned or otherwise acquired the work through an assignment of rights.)
What about the copyright in the underlying musical compositions?
There is no need to have a copyright notice for the compositions on the CD unless the lyrics are reprinted in the packaging. In that case, you would usually have a notice such as “Lyrics printed by permission © 2009 XYZ Publishing Co.”
Where should the copyright notices be positioned?
The notices should be affixed to copies of the CDs in a way that gives “reasonable notice of the claim of copyright.” The three elements of the notices should appear together, as in the examples above, on the CDs or on the CD labels and inserts.
Are the notices really necessary?
The omission of notice does not affect copyright protection, and no corrective steps are required if the work was published on or after March 1, 1989. For works published between January 1, 1978, but before March 1, 1989, no corrective steps are required if:
- The notice is omitted from no more than a relatively small number of copies or CDs distributed to the public OR
- The omission violated an express written requirement that the published copies or CDs bear the notice.
This refers to the old copyright law requirement that a published copy bear the notice of copyright. If it did not, the applicant had five years to cure the omission or error in notice before the work went into the public domain. So, for works that are published between January 1, 1978 and March 1, 1989, no corrective steps are required if the omission violated an express written requirement that the published copies bear the notice (i.e., the old copyright law) because the work has already gone into the public domain.
In all other cases, for works published before March 1, 1989, to preserve copyright:
- The work must have been registered before it was published or before the omission occurred, or it must have been registered within five years after the date of publication without notice AND
- The copyright owner must have made a reasonable effort to add the notice to all copies or CDs that were distributed to the public in the United States after the omission was discovered.
If these steps were not taken, the work went into the public domain in the US five years after publication. At that time all US copyright protection was lost and could not be restored.
Since prior law required the use of copyright notice, such use is still relevant to the copyright status of older works. While the use of a copyright notice is no longer required under US law thanks to the Berne Convention, it is often beneficial. Notice informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and gives the year of first publication. Further, if there is proper notice of copyright on the work, and the work is in fact infringed, it mitigates defendant’s claim of an innocent infringement defense.