Think you know what to do to protect your intellectual property?
The Internet’s spawned more than a couple of myths about copyright, creating widespread misunderstanding of author rights.
As authors, we care about our ideas and characters — and we want to protect them outside of our pages. That’s when copyright laws step in.
Here are four questions about copyright to which you want to know the answers right now, so that they don’t trip you up, even after you’ve written “The End.” (A/N: the below information applies only to the U.S. copyright system.)
What is poor man’s copyright?
Poor man’s copyright is the ghost that just will not go away.
To wit, the idea is this: instead of registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you can prove your copyright by mailing yourself a copy of your manuscript, in a sealed envelope.
Presumably, this would give you:
1. proof of rightful ownership; and
2. a date stamp that would confirm to the judge the date on which you’d claimed copyright.
Best of all, poor man’s copyright only costs a total of $0.30, give or take a couple of cents if you splurge on an expensive postal stamp.
It sounds wonderful, right? It does not work. It is a total myth.
Some sites insist on telling writers that this is the way to go. In reality, if a copyright dispute was ever to arise, an argument involving poor man’s copyright would be quickly shot down. (How? Any competent attorney would point out that anyone can always send an unsealed envelope to themselves, slip in their manuscript in the future, and then seal the envelope.)
Don’t trust me? Poor man’s copyright is such a bad but widespread tactic that the U.S. Copyright Office itself issued this statement, debunking it once and for all:
“There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and [poor man’s copyright] is not a substitute for registration.”
If you want to prove ownership over your work, it’s best to go the official route and register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. More on that in a bit.