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A Short History of the Copyright Symbol

by The Editorial Team Artcile avtor

This article was originally published on September 20, 2019


If you are a photographer or a content creator, you must be familiar with the symbol ‘©’. But was it always the capitalised C letter in a circle that protects copyrighted pictures and other creative works? Also, do you know the history of the copyright symbol?


Did the symbol always look the same and when was it introduced? What is the history of the copyright symbol? Some prior symbols with a similar meaning can be found in Scottish almanacks (the annual publications listing events coming in the next year), dating back to the end of the 17th century.

It was the beginning of the 19th century (1802) when a copyright notice was required for the first time in the U.S. by the Copyright Act. It was not just a symbol but quite a long sentence: ’Entered according to act of Congress, in the year         , by A. B., in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.’ It has been changed after 70 years to a shorter form: “Copyright, 18        , by A. B.’


The symbol – in the form as we know it today – was introduced in the U.S. another 40 years later, in 1909. Initially, it only applied to pictorial, graphic and sculptural works. With the amendment published in 1954, the usage of the © was extended to any type of work created, published and copyrighted. The creation agreement upon labelling the works with just a copyright symbol was a result of long discussion and meetings. Most artists and creators were not big fans of the requirement for putting quite a long word: ’copyright‘ on their works. During the conference sessions among copyright stakeholders, a group of representatives of artist organizations raised their objections to this requirement. They did not want to put much more than the artist’s name on it. The tiny © symbol put right next to the creator’s name turned out to be a perfect compromise.

One interesting fact regarding the history of the copyright symbol: since the © symbol has not been available on a typewriter and ASCII-based computer systems for a long time, it became a common practice to replace it with the C in brackets: (C). The practise has been approved by the U.S. Copyright Office under the 1909 and 1976 Copyright Acts.


Still today, the copyright symbol is supposed to protect your photos and other forms of work from getting stolen online. Its use is described in detail by the Universal Copyright Convention. However, if we dig deeper into the history of copyright, we will find out that the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, removed the requirement for the copyright symbol from U.S. copyright law. But it does not mean that the symbol is not used anymore. It still eligible for all the works published prior to 1988 and constantly serves as the most explicit sign of copyright protection.

Even though copyright is automatically granted once a work is created, a lot of users seem not to be aware of it. In times when image theft is, unfortunately, still a common practice, the creators use © to mark the ownership of their work. In case of an infringement, the copyrighted work serves as a proof and is important in the process of fighting for your rights.

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