Saturday, June 8, 2013

Poor Man's Copyright

With starting the new day job, I’ve got a new schedule.  I’m old and resistant to change so author  blogging hasn’t topped my ‘to do’ list, but obviously I need to get back to this.  

In the past month, I’ve been revisiting some of my previous sources of publishing information because the landscape changes quickly these days.  The comments left as helpful advice may not always reflect the best intentions (back to my disgust with trolling – someone’s at this site for advice, so a troll purposely gives false or misleading information).

So perhaps I can write a blog series debunking some of the more extreme or most hindering advice?

Today’s post will be about ‘Poor Man’s Copyright’ and I’m only referring to the United States with suggestions though probably other countries have their own laws and method to register copyrights. 

This myth has been around a long time (pre-email days), and it’s never been easier to copyright so why someone would still find this alternate method believable and also legitimate is baffling.  However, this idea certainly has legs. 

According to the Poor Man’s Copyright, all an author needs to do is print out their manuscript, stick it in an envelope, and mail it to themselves.  If they never open this postmarked envelope until it is time to defend their creative rights in court, it is proof that the author wrote it and here’s a copy time-stamped by the post office.

Sounds simple, but here’s the flaws –

·         Court cases are not won this way because you could have mailed yourself empty envelopes and filled any one with paper later, or backdated your computer to burn a disc with a date two days before your postmarked envelope.
·         The US Copyright Office does not recognize this as a substitution for registration.

If that’s not how it’s done, how do you copyright your work?

·         Thanks to The Copyright Act of 1976 , your work is under copyright the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form which could be printed on paper or on a hard drive and read  with the aid of a device such as a computer.
·         If you want to voluntarily register your copyright because registered works may be used for litigation, in case you have some difficulty later and want to go after statutory damages and attorney’s fees.   Register electronically at and the current fee is $35. 

I work in IT and am not an attorney, but Snopes even says Poor Man's Copyright is not helpful in the United States, but does mention it 'may be useful' in the U.K. 


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