What is a ‘poor man’s copyright?’

| Apr 18, 2019 | Copyright Law

Have you heard someone say that they took out a “poor man’s copyright?” Have you wondered exactly what they meant and whether or not it is a good idea?

This expression typically refers to the act of mailing yourself something to prove when you created it. For instance, maybe you wrote a novel. You could print off the rough draft at work, pack it into an envelope and mail it to your house. When you get home, you simply take that package — without opening it — and put it in your safe.

Now, if someone comes along a few years later and steals your idea or steals your exact text, they may claim that they wrote it first. They can produce a “first” copy that is a few months old. All you have to do is take your copy out of that package, since it is proof that you already had whatever is in it at the time that it went through the mail, and you can show that yours came first.

Does this work? Generally, experts warn against doing it. While the fundamental idea makes some sense to those inexperienced with the law, the reality is that this is not a reliable way to protect your works. In some cases, they warn that it might not actually hold up as evidence if your case winds up in court. So, while it may make you feel better about your position, it may not actually help you out when you need it the most.

Instead, it is important to look into all of your rights and the steps you can take to protect what you have created.