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Poor Man’s Copyright

April 24th, 2008 · No Comments

What is a “Poor Man’s Copyright, and is it advisable?

Poor man's copyright

A widely circulated strategy in the USA to avoid the cost of copyright registration is referred to as the “poor man’s copyright”. In the US, they still use an outdated “Copyright Office” to shuffle papers – something the rest of the world has done away with long ago thanks to the Berne Convention.

The “Poor Man’s Copyright” proposes that the creator send the work to himself in a sealed envelope by registered mail, using the postmark to establish the date. There is also a “Poor Man’s Patent”, where this method is used to ‘prove’ “first art”, or that you were the first.

For the rest of the world, this should work fine and hold up in court – if they abide by the Berne Convention. This technique has not been recognized by any United States court. The United States Copyright Office makes clear that the technique is no substitute for actual registration. The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office discusses the technique, but does not recommend its use. There are now electronic archiving services which do the same, but to protect intellectual property in the USA, you must register with the copyright office or you cannot sue for damages and/or attorney’s fees.

The Berne Convention made copyright offices obsolete, but the US does not want to close theirs. Copyright attorneys – by and large – are also happy with this arrangement. To ask a copyright attorney if copyright law needs fixing is like asking a fox if the hole in the chicken-coop should be repaired.

Tags: EU Countries & Overviews

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