What Is A Poor Man’s Copyright?

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Copyright law has its own small share of urban legends and the poor man’s copyright is one of them.  There are websites which proclaim the poor man’s copyright is the way to beat the system as far as copyright protection is concerned and avoid legal fees.  As with all myths, the story is somewhat true, but ultimately misses its mark.  However decrypting the poor man’s copyright does illustrate the importance of federal registration.

The poor man’s copyright involves sending a copy of your own work in the mail to yourself in order to establish a date for copyright.  The idea is the post office stamp on the package serves as proof of the origin date of the copyrighted work.  THIS IS NOT HOW COPYRIGHT LAW WORKS.  Even if it did, a poor man’s copyright would never be fully accepted in a court.  It is too easy to falsify the dates by pre-sending envelopes and then placing the work inside.

There are two layers of protection in United States copyright law, copyright and copyright registration.  A copyright is created in an original expression as soon as it is fixed in a medium.  This means an author has a copyright as soon as the pen is put to paper or words are typed onto a screen.  In this respect, the poor man’s copyright is unnecessary.  This copyright protection is fully enforceable and the copyright owner can sue infringers for any damages the copyright owner incurs.

Registering a copyright with the Unites States Copyright Office bestows other protections.  A registered copyright puts all others on notice that your work is protected.  Additionally, a copyright owner can pursue statutory damages instead of actual damages in court.  These statutory damages can be up to $250,000 per infringement!  However there is no provision in United States law regarding any sort of poor man’s copyright.  It is also not a substitute for registration.  If you rely on the poor man’s copyright to protect your work you will not receive any benefits of federal registration.

If you need to protect your copyright from infringement or simply want to obtain a United States copyright registration, you can contact Stone Law at 732-444-6303 or leave us a message on our website.