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The copyright symbol, or copyright sign, © (a circled capital letter "C"), is the symbol used in copyright notices for works other than sound recordings (which are indicated with the ℗ symbol). The use of the symbol is described in United States copyright law, and, internationally, by the Universal Copyright Convention. The C stands for copyright.
A copyright notice was first required in the U.S. by the Copyright Act of 1802. It was lengthy: "Entered according to act of Congress, in the year , by A. B., in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington." In general, this notice had to appear on the copyrighted work itself, but in the case of a "work of the fine arts", such as a painting, it could instead be inscribed "on the face of the substance on which [the work of art] shall be mounted". The Copyright Act was amended in 1874 to allow a much shortened notice: "Copyright, 18 , by A. B."
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.
In countries party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, including the modern-day U.S., a copyright notice is not required to be displayed in order for copyright to be established; rather, the creation of the work automatically establishes copyright.
© 2011 John Smith
The notice was once required in order to receive copyright protection in the United States, but in countries respecting the Berne convention this is no longer the case. The United States joined the Berne Convention in 1989.
The character is mapped in Unicode as U+00A9 © copyright sign (HTML
©). Unicode also has U+24B8 Ⓒ circled latin capital letter c (HTML
Ⓒ) and U+24D2 ⓒ circled latin small letter c (HTML
ⓒ). They are sometimes used as a substitute copyright symbol where the actual copyright symbol is not available in the font or in the character set, for example, in some Korean code pages.
On Windows it may be entered by holding the Alt while typing the numbers 0 1 6 9 on the numeric keypad. It can be entered on a Mac by holding the Option key and then pressing the "g" key. On Linux, it can be obtained with the <compose key> O C ComposeKey sequence.