Keeping Your Website’s Copyright Notice up-to-date


I am often amazed at how some websites don’t manage to update the copyright notice at the bottom of the page to the current year. As I write this, I have hundreds of pages that have a copyright notice and in about 12 hours from now (since today is December 31st), they will automatically update to the year 2013 without me having to do anything. I noticed that when a new year arrives that for several months many websites will have the latest copyright date set to last year, and in some cases, they can be years out of date. When I see that, it makes me feel that someone is asleep at the switch.

Google uses more than 200 ‘signals’ to measure the influence of a page, and it would surprise me if they didn’t include the latest date in a copyright notice as something that might be of interest. Fresh content is king, and stale content is like two-day old bread and that’s why the bots never stop crawling your content. But to see a copyright that is years out of date on content that has obviously been updated today, well, it makes the site owner look like he’s just not paying attention to the details.

So, how does my copyright update without my intervention? Well all of my pages are sent through a PHP parser, and my copyright notice has this little snippet of PHP code:

Copyright &copy; 2001-<?php echo date(Y); ?> Lee Devlin

When it’s run through the PHP parser and rendered on a browser, it translates to:

Copyright © 2001-2024 Lee Devlin

I have that code in all my footers, both on my WordPress and static pages, and it updates the second date every year, without me having to think about it.

If you want to edit your footer, WP themes generally keep the code in a file called footer.php in the wp-content folder. Feel free to copy that code into your footer, you have my permission. Just remember to change it to your name ;-).

2 thoughts on “Keeping Your Website’s Copyright Notice up-to-date

  1. Nope, nope, nope.

    Do not auto-update your copyright notice’s date.

    It *completely* defeats the purpose of the whole affair.

    The copyright notice’s date is supposed to be the date of original publishing. It’s used to figure when the copyright expires (like a hundred years from now. fyi: your site won’t exist then).

    Technically, you should only change your copyright date on a page when you’re totally replacing the content with new stuff that is published. In this sense, your webpage is a *place*, and you’re taking down the old published article, and replacing it with a new article you’re publishing.

    If you create something, and update it every year — too bad. Unless it’s a “new thing”, you need to retain the original publishing date.

    How much do you have to change your content before it’s a “new thing” worthy of a new publishing date? Anybody’s guess. My guess, is that if one would consider it close enough to be plagiarism, than it’s not “new” enough to be worthy of a new publishing date.

    == What Web Devs Should Really Do ==

    Don’t date your copyright notices at all. For websites, the publishing date is irrelevant. No website will be around long enough to really worry, and even so — the date written on your webserver is *not* valid in a courtroom for anything — because you just made it out. Your website isn’t in physical distribution. In any courtroom dispute, pretty much everything about the copyright notices are discarded/ignored.

    Copyright notices protect you ONLY to prevent “innocent infringement” claims, where the offender claims that they didn’t know it wasn’t public domain, because you didn’t put a notice.

    The date means *nothing* in any relevant context.

    Make your copyright notices look like this:

    (C) Chase Moskal

    That’s how I stay up to date, bitches.
    I mean, but with the real copyright symbol ( © ).

    Apply a totally separate last updated element if you want. Update that.

    Here’s the reddit discussion where this was all decided, in my head:

    • Hi Chase,

      Thanks for your comment. You make some valid points about copyright and its original intent. However, on a website that uses the copyright notice in the footer that is fed from a common file, and where the content keeps growing like it does with a blog which allows updating and commenting, I feel it’s more appropriate to set the latest date in a copyright notice to the current year. Now if you stop updating the blog or turn off comments, then I would think that your point would be valid for content that is generated dynamically where no changes are being made.

      My suggestion to programmatically insert the copyright date had more to do with the search engine and reader perception than it did about notifying anyone about when the content becomes public domain. Like it or not, people look at the copyright date as a proxy for freshness or staleness of content. I can’t say for sure that search engines pay any attention to copyright notices, but I know that I do, and if I see a website where the most recent copyright date is several years old on a posting that was obviously written THIS year, then that seems like a problem to me of inattention to detail on the part of the site owner. It implies he doesn’t know how to edit the footer, or he doesn’t care enough to do it.

      You could use something like a ‘last updated’ comment in the content for the purpose of flagging the freshness or staleness of the posting, but that’s a bit old fashioned and it begs the question about which parts of the content changed and for what reason. You’d be obligated to include a change list for the sake of completeness. WordPress and other content management systems usually give an indication of the original publication year/month by URL structure by default, but I’ve seen some bloggers that go to great lengths to hide original publication date on the content, presumably because the author is hoping to achieve eternal freshness, or at least hide its obvious staleness.

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