All Rights Reserved: The Meaning of the Phrase and Its Applications

ByDanica Djokic
October 08,2021

Copyright is a legal tool for ensuring that original works, such as writing, photos, or music, belong to the people who created them. You cannot use, copy, modify, or publish copyrighted work without the author’s permission. Copyright is often announced by the phrase “All rights reserved,” meaning that you may face a lawsuit if you violate it.

Say you find a movie you want to watch on a torrent site, fire up your VPN, and get ready to download it. If you proceed, you’ll probably be breaking the law, as all movies have a copyright statement to prevent unauthorized distribution.

That’s copyright in general, but if you’re, say, starting a new business and want to protect your brand, you need a specific legal tool - a trademark. You’ll probably need some instruction on what elements of your business can be protected through US copyright law, and we’ll have some recommendations for that later on.

What Is the Meaning of “All Rights Reserved?”

If you copyright text, music, your product name, or anything you created, no one can use your work without your permission. Creators and business owners use this phrase to imply that they reserve the right to pursue legal action under copyright law in case of misuse.

Let’s make things simple: If you write a book, it belongs to you, and you are the only one who can distribute it further or allow others to read it or copy it. In other words, all your rights are reserved.

“All rights reserved” has the meaning of keeping your ownership and distribution rights protected. The prase is often used along with a copyright notice, which consists of three obligatory elements:

  • The word “copyright”, the abbreviation “Copr.”, or symbol ©
  • The year of the first publication of the work
  • The name of the author

Now, we’ll have to disappoint you. Even though this phrase used to be legally required starting from the 1910 Buenos Aires Copyright Convention, it’s not anymore. Namely, failure to include “All rights reserved” or a copyright notice has lost all legal significance between March 1st, 1989 and August 23rd, 2000, thanks to the Berne Convention. Its signatories declared that every right is reserved unless explicitly stated otherwise. Copyright is granted to you by default through the very fact that you created the original content.

However, do not hesitate to use the phrase, even though it’s technically unnecessary, as it tells those who wish to abuse your rights they shall be prosecuted. Less dramatically put, it warns possible copycats that publishing, modifying, or duplicating original content is not allowed without your permission.

Using the “All rights reserved” symbol on your website or artwork is not the only thing you need to do to protect it. Having copyright and protecting it from infringement are worlds apart.

To prove that you have intellectual property and discourage others from stepping out of line, you need to do one of the following, or both:

  1. Place a copyright notice on your artwork or product.
  2. Register it with the US Copyright Office.

You don’t have to do either, but it will make disputes much more straightforward. As we said, there’s no need to claim your copyrights. All your rights are reserved from the moment the work is created. However, if you wish to proceed with an infringement lawsuit, showing that your work is registered with the Copyright Office is the most substantial evidence you could bring to court, but again, it’s not mandatory.

On the other hand, if you want to trademark your brand to reserve all rights, you need to deal with the US Copyright Office, and we recommend choosing an LLC service to help you along. They offer trademark registration, a seller’s permit, legal help, business licenses, pass-through taxation, etc. Take a look at our list of the best LLC Services to help you decide.

So, what does “All rights reserved” mean in terms of length? Your ownership and distribution rights are protected, but for how long?

As of January 1st, 1978, intellectual property is protected for the duration of the author’s life, plus an additional seventy years. If the work was anonymous, pseudonymous, or made as part of a commission, copyright lasts for 95 years from the moment of creation or 120 years after it was first published, whichever is shorter. There is no need to renew your registration with the US Copyright Office or for your descendants to do so.

All Rights Reserved vs. Creative Commons vs. No Rights Reserved

Some authors wish to selflessly share their efforts with anyone who might benefit from them. In this case, they include the statement “No rights reserved,” which permits others to use it for charitable, public, or personal purposes.

Having copyright, for example, allows authors to charge for the use of their intellectual property. Once they give up these rights, however, anyone can use their work for free.

Although you usually need permission to use copyrighted material in your work, there is an exception called Fair Use. Even though all rights are reserved to an author, small portions can be used to critique, teach, or as part of a news report, but not for commercial purposes. The press can also freely copy news and articles, but it has to add a reference to the source.

Finally, let’s mention Creative Commons (CC). This organization uses a slightly different phrase, “Some rights reserved,” to illustrate their mission of free access to creative and academic work. It’s a non-profit that helps share knowledge by connecting content creators to people who want to use their work.

If you’re still wondering when to use “All rights reserved,” take a look at any book’s copyright page. It contains the copyright notice, edition and publication information, cataloging data, print history, and other legal notices. A single glance will give you insight into the world of intellectual property protection.

Frequently Asked Questions
What does “All rights reserved” mean?

The phrase “All rights reserved” means that someone’s intellectual property is legally protected and that it’s prohibited to use, modify or copy it without the author’s permission.

How do you write a copyright statement?

The “All rights reserved” definition states that you have to include three elements in a copyright statement: the word “copyright” itself ( or the abbreviation “Copr.”, or symbol ©), the year of the work’s first publication, and the name of the author.

What does no rights reserved mean?

This statement means that someone’s intellectual property might be used freely, without asking or paying for permission.

Can I use a copyright symbol without registering?

Yes, as of March 1, 1989, you can use it without registering. Even though “All rights reserved” has a meaning of copyright protection, it has no legal significance, as your work is copyrighted from the moment of creation.

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