Copyright formalities

Copyright formalities are legal (generally statutory) requirements needed to obtain a copyright in a particular jurisdiction. Common copyright formalities include copyright registration, copyright renewal, copyright notice, and copyright deposit.

Benefits and critiques

Copyright formalities had certain benefits to users and holders of copyrights. First, they made determination of copyright status fairly easy. Copyright notice requirements—such as placing a notice of copyright on the work itself, along with the copyright holder, and the date of copyright—meant that any work could readily be determined to be in copyright simply by looking for the copyright notice. Copyright registration and renewal requirements meant that records of copyright owners were centrally located and made available; this facilitated licensing arrangements, and contacting the holders. It also provided authoritative records about who owned the copyright, in case of disputes.

However, copyright formalities were viewed as an unnecessary burden on creators—mostly authors at the end of the 19th century. Authors who failed to comply with some particular aspect of a formality—for instance, placing the notice in the wrong place or in the wrong order, or failing to renew a copyright in a timely fashion—would lose their copyright. Consequently, Victor Hugo and other authors agitated for the elimination of copyright formalities toward the end of the 19th century. In response to their efforts, the 1908 Berlin text of the Berne Convention forbade treaty signatories from conditioning copyright on formalities,[1] shifting copyright from a system of application (registration) to automatic copyright on fixation.

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