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“Which copyright date should be on a website?” someone asked us recently. People are often confused about which date they should use as their copyright date on a website. In fact, a whole lot of sites have the wrong copyright date on their website. As an Internet policy institute, and because our CEO is an Internet policy lawyer, we often get questions unrelated to our core offering of email sender certification and deliverability services, and we are happy to answer them if we can. The answer to this one is actually really easy, and will make perfect sense to you once we explain it.

Before we go any further, we need to clarify something: in this context the term “copy” refers to the actual content of a work, as in when a copywriter writes copy, not as in to reproduce something; the word having these two different meanings is often the source of confusion. Ok, ready?

What is Copyright?

In layman’s terms, ‘copyright’ literally means “your right to your own copy”. In other words, your right to your own words (or image, etc..). Prior to the Copyright Act of 1710 (the first copyright law in history, enacted in England), when an author published something, anybody could reproduce it and sell it with no recourse available to the original author. In other words, authors and other copy creators had no rights to their own creations.

The first copyright law, and all copyright laws since, changed that. Now authors and other creators own the right to their own works. Again, these works are referred to as ‘copy’, so they own the rights to their own copy. Hence, “copy right” and “copyright”.

If you own the copyright to something, it means that you own the exclusive legal right to publish it or otherwise present it publicly, and that nobody else can do that unless you give them permission (such as by either licensing it to them or selling it to them).

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Why Your Copyright Date Matters

The most important date in terms of copyright, and in terms of protecting your rights to the copy which you have created, is the date that your right came into being. That date is generally the date that you first published the work (the “copy”), or otherwise used it publicly or in business.

So, when speaking of websites, the copyright date displayed on the site should be the date that the site was created or went live. For example, our site was created and went live in 2003, and so from a legal protection perspective our copyright statement should read:

“© 2003 Get to the Inbox by ISIPP SuretyMail”

The thing is, many many sites get it wrong, and have the current year as their copyright date. The point of copyright is to establish the earliest date at which the right attaches, so when a site uses the current year instead of the creation year it’s basically saying “we only have a right to the copy which we published this year.”

Why Do So Many Get the Copyright Date on a Website Wrong?

There are three main reasons that so many sites display the current year instead of the year of creation:

1. They got bad advice.
2. They want to convey to visitors that the site is up-to-date.
3. They are copying all of the other sites who are doing it wrong.

In a spectacular display of the first two reasons combined, Sonet Digital says in an article called The Importance of Updating Your Copyright Dates (remember this information is wrong), that you should update your copyright date on your site to “build trust: when your website reflects accurate and current information it helps to build a good level of trust for those that visit it”, and to show that your site is “up to speed: by displaying the correct copyright year it shows your visitors that you are on the ball.”

Of course, building trust is important (and not just on your website, but also in your email), but for goodness sake don’t do that by making your copyright date be the current year!

That said, many people do (wrongly) think of the copyright date as the “last updated date”, and consider an old copyright date to be an indicator that the site has not been updated since that date.

To address this, we consider the best practice to be using a “date first created – current year” format, like this:

© 2003 – 2022 Get to the Inbox by ISIPP SuretyMail.

Which Copyright Date Should You Use on a Website? Odds are Good that You Have it Wrong.

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