University Web Developers

University Web Developers

The Purpose of Copyright Notices on University Websites?

I've been thinking a little bit about copyright notices, and what they are actually for (and if they're even strictly necessary). This is the post that got me thinking about this:


I'd like to throw out a few possibilities, and I'd love to hear your comments on these as well as suggestions for others.

  1. A copyright notice makes it so that legally no one can copy my content. This one doesn't really hold water. Since 1989, it sounds like this isn't a requirement (from the link above): "In fact, you don’t even need the notice to claim copyright; the law eliminated the requirement of public notice in 1989."
  2. A copyright notice informs people that they shouldn't copy my content. This seems a bit more reasonable, though I think most people realize that copying things verbatim from other sites isn't legal anyway.
  3. A copyright notice shows when pages were last updated, and if they're being cared for or not. Now we're getting into usability and credibility.  Most timely content like blogs or news posts will have dates on them anyway, but people like to know that other informational pages are taken care of.  I would guess that most site visitors don't realize that the copyright date and page content don't really have anything to do with each other on most websites (being edited and maintained by different people in separate places).
  4. A copyright notice signals that you are at the bottom of the page, and that everything has loaded. I never would have thought of this: "Google famously did not have a copyright notice during test but put one on so people would realize their simple page had loaded. People were waiting for the website to load because they were used to big pages with lots of content." (from  I think this is largely taken care of by modern web design, as there would be other items in the footer and other visual signals that you've reached the bottom.

Out of all of these, #3 seems to me to be the most important. So, what I'm leaning toward now isn't getting rid of the copyright, but thinking of it primarily as a seal of "this website contains timely information." With that in mind, I'm going to be extra vigilant about keeping the copyrights at the bottom of my pages at the current year (programmatically, preferably), and making it visible instead of trying to tuck it away somewhere in 5 point font.


Has anyone else come to similar conclusions? Am I off base here?

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Copyrights are intrinsic from the moment content is created. So technically, no, there is absolutely no legal requirement to display it on the website. In the case of content theft, the defense never comes down to "well, there wasn't a copyright notice on the page." At the very least, it only makes clear when the content was created, which is what those cases come down to (who stole from who, which was created first). But, with our IT infrastructures, we can prove the date of content creation many other ways (not to mention the simple text itself can be easily manipulated).


More than anything, I've always looked at this sort of element as a "feel good feature" that is there to satisfy administrative and legal folks who don't know better. It's one line at the bottom of the page in the footer. It's not hurting user experience and I don't have to go out of my way for it, so it'll sit there and do it's "job" for now.

Stephen, interesting to read this, since we came to the exact same conclusion in our offices the other day. Everyone agreed it was an unnecessary formality, but that updating it to 2011 showed that we were keeping things up to date, or <ahem>, trying to...


That said, I'd be happy to see a design that didn't require it. It certainly seems like an artifact of the print world.

I agree with where you're taking this conversation, Stephen!  Related to #3, I was going to sarcastically reply that they are for institutions/companies to show that bit of code on their page/site was last touched somewhere in the middle of the Bush Administration...but you're right.  If you've written it, drawn it, recorded it, etc., it's your content (and you hold copyright) until/unless you say otherwise.  "Otherwise" potentially including legal disclaimers that show who rights have been assigned to, or rights given away by your acceptance of various terms and conditions for using ??? to get content out on the Internet.


A bigger, more interesting question on this subject (to me) is not what you see on the screen, but all of the code that lurks behind the scenes.  I don't know if I know a web developer alive who hasn't either "borrowed" bits of someone else's code or at bare-minimum copied, de-constructed, and then reconstructed it to suit their own purposes.  Reverse-engineering the UFO, if you will.  :-)  It is commonplace for people to do this in the web development community!  That said, have you ever heard of instances where violation of copyright was challenged related to page/template code? Outside of CMS, of course, since those folks are selling you something proprietary that is a little different.



Interesting points Sir! We had this talk during our redesign last year but in the end it was a moot point as the guidelines for it were past down from campus central as well as a requirement for a page last updated date. (Our campus requirements are

From my departments point of view we were going to go with a page last updated date and not the copyright as using the copyright only for currency seemed redundant. That said I do believe our current requirements of " ©YYYY SIU Board of Trustees" may be more of a political statement from a divided campus than even an attempt to show currency of data.



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