Poor Man's Copyright: Legally Binding?

 By: Melissa Gordon
Getting copyright for your own original work is something that is advised under the law, particularly if there is something about your work that makes it likely to be either copied or used for any purpose against your will. Being the creator of a piece of work is something that can provide both financial riches and personal kudos. If, however, you have not copyrighted this work, you will have problems trying to prove ownership further down the line.

Of course, copyrighting your work will cost money. This is all very well and good if you are a successful artist who has been selling their pieces for some time and has the money in the bank to pay copyright fees. The expense is not huge - especially when compared with some other legal services - but it still brings into the matter a question of whether copyright law discriminates against poor, struggling artists. If you happen to have an idea that you imagine may well be lucrative, but not the money to copyright it, then you may feel that you are being unfairly prevented from protecting your idea.

One solution that has been mooted in this situation is the practice known as "Poor Man's Copyright". As the name suggests, it is a way of demonstrating that one has taken action to protect their idea, and doing so without having to spend a large amount of money when one cannot reasonably afford to. The practice itself is fairly straightforward and simple, and based in some genuinely clever thinking. The idea is that if you take a copy of the work and send it to yourself through the mail, there will be a date postmarked on the envelope showing when it was sent. If someone then tries to copy your work or pass a version of it off as their own you have a way of showing that you had the idea first and took steps to protect it.

The fact is, however, that Poor Man's Copyright is not legally binding. No provision is made in US copyright law regarding such protection, so people responsible for original work are still required to put it through the process of applying for copyright if they want total, full copyright protection. This is not an advantageous situation for anyone who has an idea while down on their luck financially.

However, it is still worth going through the process of sending the work to yourself. It can be used as evidence where there is reasonable doubt, and more importantly it can be a way of providing notice to any potential plagiarist that you are mindful of people trying to steal your ideas. In any potential case where you may sue for plagiarism, it is always desirable to be as fully armed as possible for any legal battle. After all, it is potentially a question of substantial, repeated future earnings and you want to put your foot down to protect those.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.
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