What is the poor man’s copyright?

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Even Stephen King had some written works rejected before he proved himself a hot commodity to publishers.  In copyrighting the written word using the “poor man‘s copyright“, many a writer has lost some or all of their works to copyright infringement, and then lost their legal cases due to improper copyrighting.  Writers, either seeking stardom or finally putting that first book idea together, have to copyright their works before spending money on sending them around to publishers.  Before making it big as a writer, living from pay check to pay check at a dead-end job, many writers rely on the “poor man’s copyright” to insure their works against theft and plagiarism.  But, is this a proven method of copyrighting?

In a dog-eat-dog environment like publishing, it is always best to be able to prove that what you sent to the publishers was yours, so that they do not have a ghost writer copy your works and make millions in book and movie deals.  In order to save money on copyrighting a written work, many authors revert to the poor man’s copyright.  But, in reality, they are saving under $50 USD (United States Dollars) by using a copyright manner that is untrustworthy, costly to defend and easy to beat.

For those who are not aware of what a poor man’s copyright is, it can be either mailing a copy of the works to yourself, with the postal stamp being the copyright (the envelope does have to remain sealed for this copyright to work), or you can simply sign your name to your work(s).  In using this method, you should also include the copyright symbol “©” at the beginning of your work, under your name, or at the end of your work, under or beside your name.  Both instances here require a date to be added as well, so the poor man’s copyright for written works would look like “© Fibber McFibberty, March 02, 2010”.

For the poor man’s copyright on other works, like recorded music, paintings or sculptures, copy your work(s) onto a tangible format (written on a piece of paper or on song writing sheets, on a DVD, CD or tape), and mail it to yourself using postal mail.  When you receive the materials back in the mail, do not open it.  Place it in a safe place, like a safe, or in a bank’s safety deposit box.  Have another copy mailed to a family member, or a friend who is a lawyer, agent or legal professional (law teacher, policeman, judge, notoriety, etc.) in order to strengthen your rights as the copyrighted owner.

However, it seems like an awful lot of work and money to be spent so that you could possibly still lose your works or have them stolen and used by someone else.  With the American Copyright costs currently at about $30 per copyrighted material, and the cost of mailing heavy manuscripts via mail fairly expensive, probably even more than $30 for a hard copy (on paper), it could actually be cheaper to copyright your works the proper way, through your country’s copyright office.  And then, they would defend your copyright, and you would not need to hire a lawyer, and then pay for the other legal team if you lose the case.

Know your rights, and write safely.

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