“Poor Man’s Copyright” Doesn’t Work

I often receive calls from potential clients who express interest in protecting their music or other artistic works.  Some callers are musicians who are beginning to record, perform and license their songs.  Others call because their music has been stolen or used by someone else without their permission.

I ask, “Have you registered your copyrights?”

“Yes.  Poor man’s copyright. I mailed myself a copy of the CD and I’m not opening the envelope.”

Unfortunately, so-called “poor man’s copyright” does not work.

Your copyright exists as soon as you “fix” it in a “tangible medium of expression.” That is, as soon as your ideas are expressed in an actual form.  The copyright exists as soon as you record a song, write a story, or paint a picture.

However, if someone uses your music, story, photograph or painting without your permission, you MUST have a registration from the U.S. Copyright Office before you can sue in federal court.  Sending a copy to yourself in the mail may provide some evidence of when you created the work, but has no power to enforce your rights.

At $35, copyright registration is relatively inexpensive, compared to trademark registration, incorporation, or LLC formation.  Registration may not be as cheap as a postage stamp, but the benefits you will receive from copyright registration far outweigh the cost of postage for a “poor man’s copyright.”

If you would be upset if someone used your art or design without your permission – obtain a copyright registration.

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