Poor Man’s Copyright
Poor Man’s Copyright is a system of attempting to establish copyright through mailing a copy of the art to yourself (some people suggest using Certified Mail). The artist then files the envelope — unopened. If their copyright ownership is ever threatened, all they need do is open the envelope (in a court of law, one supposes) and present the document with a flourish. You even see some very prominent artists advising young people to use Poor Man’s Copyright. There’s only one problem: It’s complete bullshit.
Poor Man’s Copyright
We talked about it waaaaay back in 2007, when we were doing the Webcomics Weekly podcast. Poor Man’s Copyright doesn’t stand up in court. According to the US. Copyright Office:
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.Copyright in General, Copyright.gov
In general, you own the copyright to your work the “moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section ‘Copyright Registration.'” [SOURCE]
NOLO.com has an excellent explanation:
The U.S. Copyright Office is the federal agency charged with granting and administering all copyrights in the United States. Registration of one’s work confers many benefits, including the ability to sue someone for infringing your work, in a federal court.
(Again, if you only write down your creative work and mail it to yourself, you cannot actually initiate litigation for infringement).
Registration also clearly and unequivocally establishes the date upon which you begin to “own” the work. This can be particularly important in situations of copyright infringement, where both sides will typically argue that they created the work before the other.
Fortunately, the Copyright Office’s website makes the registration process fairly self-explanatory. You simply select the type of work you wish to register—such as literary work, visual work, photographs, and so forth—and follow the instructions.
The Electronic Copyright Office, knows as “eCO,” allows you to upload the work (as a PDF, JPEG, etc.), along with your application. Once submitted, the staff of the Copyright Office will review it and then, hopefully, approve your application and issue you a formal copyright certificate.
The Copyright Office will charge fees for your registration. Fees change each year, and depend on the nature of your intended registration, but typically run between $50 and $100.