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Photo of attorneys E. Kelly Conway, Michael E. Gehring and Stephen G. Harvey

Will a “poor man’s copyright” actually protect you?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Intellectual Property

You’re wildly creative, and you come up with new ideas all the time – some of which have proved profitable in the past. It’s more important than ever to make sure that all your creative content is protected from theft and misuse.

One common method that people still try to use is the so-called “poor man’s copyright.”

How does it work?

This unofficial (and unreliable) practice involves mailing a certified copy of your work to yourself in a sealed envelope so that the postmark can be used to establish a date of creation. These days, people even try to use emails to create digital time stamps, under the same theory. Should your authorship and ownership ever be questioned, you can supposedly point to the date on the envelope or email in court and prove your case.

This idea has been around since copyrights were created (if not before). The only problem is that there’s no legal weight behind a poor man’s copyright. Copyright is automatic upon the creation of any original work, but if you want the ability to enforce your rights and file a lawsuit for copyright infringement it’s best to register your work with U.S. Copyright Office. Relying on postmarks and digital timestamps that can be easily manipulated is simply not a good plan.

Understanding how to best protect your intellectual property could mean the difference between a successful future for your business and an absolute disaster. Seeking legal guidance can help you not only safeguard your work but also help to make certain that your exclusive rights are enforceable.