Copyright is about protection and with varying methods, there are varying levels of protection. While copyright is automatic, it does not provide sufficient protection in the event that someone challenges your claim of authorship. A more effective method than allowing copyright protection to rest on the simple creation of a work, some authors and creators rely on obtaining the “poor man’s copyright.”
What is the Poor Man’s Copyright?
Under this method of copyright protection, a writer, musician or written art work creator, simply mails a copy of his or her work to his or herself. Once the envelope is received, the creator simply does not open it and keeps it in a safe place. The date stamp on the package is used to confirm and correlate with the dates of art work creation. This serves as a corroborated level of proof of authenticity and exclusive right. Advantages and Disadvantages of The Poor Man’s Copyright
A poor man’s copyright is an inexpensive way of creating a higher level of protection for your work. The method is within the clear control and ability of every person and does not require extensive knowledge or documentation.
Other than ease and cost, the poor man’s copyright has many shortcomings. It is not a trusted level of proof and as such can be easily faked. This method does not create a public record, but does stand as a record that the holder may have had some dominion and control over the proposed work; however, in the case of copyright infringement claims or suits, this method of copyright protection is not recognized as prima facie evidence of a superior ownership right in the written work of art.
Alternatives to the Poor Man’s Copyright
When people consider copyrighting their work, registration often is the optimum option. Not everyone creates publishable works, such as books and articles, and even those need protection beyond pages of a journal or office of a publisher. Registering your work with the United States Copyright, or other foreign Copyright Office, is a way of creating one of the highest levels of protection for your creative and original work of art. This method creates a clear public record which serves as substantial proof in court of your ownership and creation of a work of art. It is the prima facie evidence needed to initiate and support an infringement claim or suit.
Publication of the work, either in print or the web is another option. There isn’t a book, magazine or online article that does not have a copyright symbol somewhere in its pages. Many people often recognize that publishing a work offers proof to the world that you are the author of a very particular work. Publication serves as a mode of distribution, but also a record of your ownership. It is a great way of obtaining some form of copyright protection for your work, beyond its simple existence. While not as sufficient as registering a copyright, it is another method which provides more protection than a poor man’s copyright.
Sometimes, you get what you pay for! And, that can be the case with the poor man’s copyright. The form of copyright protection can be used in lieu of formal registration with the United States, or any foreign, Copyright Office. While many people opt for this method for protecting their original works of art, writing, and music, it has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.