What does "All Rights Reserved" Mean?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Under current US copyright laws, any creative work is automatically protected from the moment it is first published, performed, or produced. This means the creator of the work must be recognized as the legal owner when it comes to fair use of that work by others. Essentially, the writer of a novel or the sculptor of a statue holds all of the legal rights to that work unless or until he or she decides to grant some of those rights to others. One common way to establish these rights is to include the phrase all rights reserved somewhere on the work itself. It is quite common for movie producers to include the phrase as part of the film's closing credits, for example, and publishers may also include it on one of the front pages of a novel. The phrase serves to remind others that the original creator of the work still owns every right to the material.

The creator or owner of the work retains ownership of the material.
The creator or owner of the work retains ownership of the material.

Some of the rights reserved by the copyright owner include the right to reproduce the work, license the use of the material by others, and create derivative works. "Derivative works" would include creating a motion picture based on a novel or composing a song based on a published poem. The original creator reserves the right to do all of these things and more, but in reality, he or she is more likely to grant others specific rights to the material. The publisher of a well-known rock song, for example, could grant a commercial producer the right to use the song in an advertisement. A painter could also grant reproduction rights to a designated printing company in order to produce posters.

The phrase all rights reserved does not have to appear at all on a published work in order for the creator to receive copyright protection. Many artists and producers use it as more of a warning to those who may be considering unauthorized use of that material or creation. By pointing out that all rights are still held or reserved by the original creator, the phrase establishes awareness of the current copyright laws and an implied willingness to pursue legal action if those rights are violated. This would be the equivalent of a restaurant owner creating a sign establishing his or her right to refuse service to anyone. The phrase doesn't necessarily mean the work could never be used by others for legitimate or artistic purposes, but it does mean the copyright owner must provide written consent before the work can be used legally.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


What if you give credit to the copyright owner than stealing? Is that still breaking the copyright law?


I have written and self-published several books, and I make sure to always include the phrase “all rights reserved” on the first page of every book. This page is mostly blank except for the copyright information, so it is plain to see.

After I type up a manuscript, I send it to a company that makes the work into a book for me. I have to buy all of my own copies to sell, but it is a way to get my work out there.

I can't afford to be sending off for certificates of copyright, because that can get expensive. I think that typing “all rights reserved” in the front of my book is sufficient proof that I am the copyright owner.


@Perdido – Many times, singers will give away publishing rights to their songs because the person receiving them is in a position to help them, either monetarily or by getting them airplay. I hated to do it, but I gave away the publishing rights to my whole first album to my manager.

I only did it because I had no money at the time, and in order to get registered as a publisher, you had to pay a $200 fee. My manager did have the money, and since I thought he was in it to help me, I let him become the publisher of my songs.

As time went on, I could see that he had no real contacts in the music business, and I decided to quit. Unfortunately, he still has all the rights to my music, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't legally perform them live or rerecord them.


Why would a songwriter or singer give away the rights to their work? If they are the one performing the song, wouldn't they want to have absolute control over how it gets used?

Also, if they have all rights to a song or album, then they get more money every time it is played. If they choose to give away or share the rights, they have to share the profits, too.

I don't think I could stand to give away my songs. I would hate for one of them to end up in a commercial or get covered by a band I can't stand.


If you are really worried that someone may try to use your work without permission, it is best to get a copyright certificate from the national copyright office. This is what my friend has done for every book and song that he has written.

That way, if someone should challenge your ownership, it won't be just your word against theirs. You will have a notarized certificate that clearly states your name and the title of your work. Since you will have sent a copy of the work to the office, they will have the whole thing on file as proof.

It might not happen very often, but it is best to protect yourself from this type of fraud. Having your work on file at the copyright office gives irrefutable proof that it is yours and yours alone.

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