Why The Poor Man’s Copyright Is No Longer Useful (If It Ever Was)

Anyone that’s interested in copyrighting their creative work has probably heard of the “poor man’s copyright.” That’s when you make a copy of your work, then mail it to yourself so you have a postmark to prove the date that it was created. This is something that’s not practical or valid today, but it turns out that it probably never was in the first place.

Poor Man's Copyright

The fact is that no one really knows who thought this method up or when, but the fact is that it’s never been tested in court, according to Plagiarism Today. It’s likely that the only reason that anyone ever used the method is to save money and hassle from actually filing a paper registration with the Copyright Office.

Here’s the problem the big problem. While it’s fairly easy to prove the publication date of your work online (see below), the problem is that without filing a proper registration you don’t have the ability to sue for statutory damages, as a formal copyright registration provides a very powerful tool when it comes to an infringement lawsuit.

Today’s Poor Man’s Copyright

Many artists, songwriters and composers aren’t aware that you get automatic protection as soon as you create and record your music in a tangible form (like writing it down or recording it). Even better, as soon as the song is published online on either social media or a streaming service, it’s timestamped, which might be helpful to prove that you wrote it first if there’s ever a dispute. That said, your options are still limited without the official registration from the Copyright Office, which can be obtained here, along with a treasure trove of information. It does require that you pay a fee (from $45 to $125), and submit a copy of the work.

So the best advice is to forget about mailing yourself a copy of your work as it’s now way more hassle than filling out the copyright registration form online, and its usefulness in court is dubious at best.

[I’m not an attorney and don’t provide legal advice. See a licensed entertainment attorney in your area for the best guidance.]
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