Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Poor Man's copyright

This is pretty much a mandatory post for any blog that discusses copyright law: The Poor Man's copyright.

This is very straightforward. While all countries party to the Berne Convention have a legal system which recognizes works as copyrighted upon creation, not all countries have a copyright registration scheme in place to automatically recognize creators as having come up with a certain original piece of work.

In such countries, there are various alternative methods of registering copyrights (such as those mentioned in the Cyber Law Facts article Proving a website copyright), and one of them is a simple system known as the Poor Man's copyright.

Advocates of the Poor Man's copyright say that in order to record evidence of the earliest date of existence of your work, you can simply put a copy of it in an envelope, seal it, sign your name across the seal, and mail it to yourself. The result should be a sealed envelope containing your copyrighted material with an official postmark of your country's postal service on it.

This "evidence" can easily be faked through a number of methods, such as sending unsealed envelopes, steaming open envelopes, forging post marks, and so on. Because of this, it gives almost no evidentiary value in many courts of law. It should not be used as a reliable method of proving a copyright, particularly in a country where copyright registration is available, and it is best to rely on some form of private, respected document recording system to record copies of one's work, such as that provided by the Writers Guild of America.

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