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02B copyright notice: date

Where to Look in the Law

1909 Act: §62
1947 Act: §26
1976 Act: §§401, 402, 406(b) (“Error in date”)

Copyright Office Publications for Laymen

“[T]he date of original copyright for the work… will determine the calendar year during which the copyright becomes eligible for renewal with a renewal filing during the original term due by December 31 of [28 years after] that year. An exception to this rule exists when the copyright notice in the work contains a year date earlier than the year date of first publication. In this case, the renewal filing period is computed from the year date in the copyright notice. For example, a work published January 20, 1975, contains a copyright notice reading ‘Copyright 1974 by Anderson Homes.’ Compute the 28-year original term from the year 1974.”  (Information Circular 15)

What the Courts Ruled


Blanche L. Snow vs Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick

C.C.,S.D.Ohio (1-12-1895) ¤ 65 F. 995.

The copyright notice on each of three 1894 photographs gave the year by abbreviation “‘94.”  (EDITOR’S NOTE: At that time, a “reasonable person” would have known that photography had not existed any previous year that “94” had been among the numbers.)  In full, the notice read “Copyright ‘94.  By B. L. Snow.”  This was judged a substantial compliance.  The Judge wrote that “it would be too narrow a construction to hold that the abbreviation ‘'94’ is insufficient.  A substantial compliance is all that is necessary.”


Stein, et al vs Jerome H. Remick & Co.

USCC SDNY (1-14-1910)

“It is not necessary that the defendant should have intended to violate the copyright of the plaintiff.  He had means of knowledge from the copyright office that the song had in fact been copyrighted; and he, like any one else, took his chances when he published the song without any inquiry.

“Nor do I find any difficulty in deciding that Roman numerals conform to the notice prescribed by the statute.  Roman numerals are a part of the language of the country.  They are constantly in use upon monumental architecture of all sorts and for serial purposes upon books […]  If the letters were written out in words, it would certainly be a compliance.”


Southern Music Pub. Co. vs Bibo-Lang, Inc.

D.C.N.Y. (5-17-1935) ¤ 10 F.Supp. 972.

The song “An Arizona Home” had been copyrighted by an application dated February 27, 1905, yet “On the music sheet there was also a notation: ‘Copyright MCMIV by Balmer & Weber Music House Company’.

“This antedating of the copyright in the notice of copyright I hold to be a venial error which did not affect the validity of the copyright but merely shortened the duration of the copyright period, and was therefore a mistake in favor of the public.  The only result of this antedating of the notice was, consequently, that the [first] copyright period of ‘An Arizona Home’ would have expired, unless renewed, on the 31st of December, 1932”, instead of February 27, 1933.


Frederick Chusid & Company vs Marshall Leeman & Co., et al

USDC, SDNY (1-26-1968) ¤ 279 F.Supp. 913

Chusid’s brochure titled “Twelve Steps to Successful Executive Marketing” was copied without authorization.  “There has been no evidence to indicate that plaintiff did not create these forms.  The only issue raised is whether the 1961 notice date on the brochure that was published and registered in 1963 (Ostrow Supplemental Affidavit) nullifies plaintiff’s copyright.  Since the misdating of the copyright notice was in favor of the public, the error does not result in an abandonment into the public domain. Leigh v. Gerber, 86 F.Supp. 320 (S.D.N.Y. 1949).”


Newton vs Voris

USDC, D.Oregon (7-2-1973) ¤ 364 F.Supp. 562

A map had on one side a notice giving the year as 1968 (although the map had been slightly revised in 1969), but on the other side of the map, the year given was 1969, which on that side was appropriate given it was new material.  The Court ruled it an innocent error.


Cases Summarized in Other Sections

Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. vs Jerry Vogel Music Co. (launch this) resolved problems resulting from the song “Melancholy” (and its variation, “My Melancholy Baby”) having been created in 1911, 1912 and 1914 versions.




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© 2007 David P. Hayes