Michael Lewis' just published book, TheNew New Thing, lists a copyright date of 2000. (Click here to read Joe Nocera and Jean Strouse's discussion of the book.) Does this mean it is not legally protected until next year?
No. A book's reported copyright date is essentially meaningless. Copyright protection is granted automatically to a work immediately upon its creation (which, in the case of a book, means the moment an author first puts his pen to the paper or fingers to the keyboard). Publication of the work or registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required. Until this decade, however, authors had to publicly declare a claim of copyright on published works for it to be legally binding. But in 1989, the use of a copyright notice was made optional; users must now presume that a work is copyrighted even if it does not directly say so.
If a work is copyrighted by the author, the protection lasts until 70 years after his or her death. If it is copyrighted by a third party (e.g., a publisher), it is protected for 95 years after publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Thus, there is little legal consequence to post-dating a copyright claim. So, why do it? Typically, a book's scheduled release date changes multiple times before publication. Publishers often use the latest of the potential publishing dates in order to ensure that a new new book doesn't look old too soon.