17 U.S. Code § 406. Notice of copyright: Error in name or date on certain copies and phonorecords
In addition to cases where notice has been omitted entirely, it is common under the present law for a copyright notice to be fatally defective because the name or date has been omitted or wrongly stated. Section 406 is intended to avoid technical forfeitures in these cases, while at the same time inducing use of the correct name and date and protecting users who rely on erroneous information.
Error in Name. Section 406(a) begins with a statement that the use of the wrong name in the notice will not affect the validity or ownership of the copyright, and then deals with situations where someone acting innocently and in good faith infringes a copyright by relying on a purported transfer or license from the person erroneously named in the notice. In such a case the innocent infringer is given a complete defense unless a search of the Copyright Office records would have shown that the owner was someone other than the person named in the notice. Use of the wrong name in the notice is no defense if, at the time infringement was begun, registration had been made in the name of the true owner, or if “a document executed by the person named in the notice and showing the ownership of the copyright had been recorded.”
The situation dealt with in section 406(a) presupposes a contractual relation between the copyright owner and the person named in the notice. The copies or phonorecords bearing the defective notice have been “distributed by authority of the copyright owner” and, unless the publication can be considered unauthorized because of breach of an express condition in the contract or other reasons, the owner must be presumed to have acquiesced in the use of the wrong name. If the person named in the notice grants a license for use of the work in good faith or under a misapprehension, that person should not be liable as a copyright infringer, but the last sentence of section 406(a) would make the person named in the notice liable to account to the copyright owner for “all receipts, from transfers or licenses purportedly made under the copyright” by that person.
Error in Date. The familiar problems of antedated and postdated notices are dealt with in subsection (b) of section 406. In the case of an antedated notice, where the year in the notice is earlier than the year of first publication, the bill adopts the established judicial principle that any statutory term measured from the year of publication will be computed from the year given in the notice. This provision would apply not only to the copyright terms of anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works made for hire under section 302(c), but also to the presumptive periods set forth in section 302(e).
As for postdated notices, subsection (b) provides that, where the year in the notice is more than one year later than the year of first publication the case is treated as if the notice had been omitted and is governed by section 405. Notices postdated by one year are quite common on works published near the end of a year, and it would be unnecessarily strict to equate cases of that sort with works published without notice of any sort.
Omission of Name or Date. Section 406(c) provides that, if the copies or phonorecords “contain no name or no date that could reasonably be considered a part of the notice,” the result is the same as if the notice had been omitted entirely, and section 405 controls. Unlike the present law, the bill contains no provision requiring the elements of the copyright notice to “accompany” each other, and under section 406(c) a name or date that could reasonably be read with the other elements may satisfy the requirements even if somewhat separated from them. Direct contiguity or juxtaposition of the elements is no longer necessary; but if the elements are too widely separated for their relation to be apparent, or if uncertainty is created by the presence of other names or dates, the case would have to be treated as if the name or date, and hence the notice itself had been omitted altogether.
The effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, referred to in text, is Mar. 1, 1989, see section 13 of Pub. L. 100–568, set out as an Effective Date of 1988 Amendment note under section 101 of this title.
Subsec. (a). Pub. L. 100–568, § 7(f)(1), substituted “With respect to copies and phonorecords publicly distributed by authority of the copyright owner before the effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, where” for “Where”.
Subsec. (c). Pub. L. 100–568, § 7(f)(3), inserted “before the effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988” after “publicly distributed” and “as in effect on the day before the effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988” after “section 405”.
Amendment by Pub. L. 100–568 effective Mar. 1, 1989, with any cause of action arising under this title before such date being governed by provisions in effect when cause of action arose, see section 13 of Pub. L. 100–568, set out as a note under section 101 of this title.