Poor man’s copyright does not exist

Poor man’s copyright is a dangerous joke and here’s why:

I don’t know if I should be amused or aggravated when hearing or reading of people who still think that poor man’s copyright is a recommendable practice. And as a sad matter of fact, there are even lawyers who think it’s a good idea.

One tip, just for starters, if anybody suggests the use of poor man’s copyright, do not take this advice and probably better not any other from that person as well.

For those of you who were yet lucky enough never to get in touch with this issue, let me explain real quick.

There was a time, as I thought decades ago, when people thought they could secure their copyright by putting their materials (recording, lyrics) in a sealed envelope and mailing that to themselves. The postal stamp was supposed to be proof of time of creation. If need be, they wanted to prove their copyright by providing that sealed and stamped envelope to a judge in court. This is called poor man’s copyright.

Let me tell you this, at law school this practice was regarded as , if not a joke, as a cheap attempt to cheat the legal system.

As far as I know and learned, there’s not ever been a single case in which poor man’s copyright was acceptable proof in court. But why, you ask??

Legally usable proof can not be created just by your own, because you are one of the arguing parties, therefore biased. The only thing you can do is testify. But your testimony is not much more than an educated opinion to court. Proof can be provided e.g. by authorities (including notaries), a third person or legally obtained papers and documents.

The legal system can’t rely on your word.

Of course you could state in court that your envelope has not been tampered with and the stamp might be looming, but it’s definitely real, sure! And nobody has ever lied in court, right??

If you want to make sure your copyrights are secured, there’s only one safe way: registration.

You could look at the registration fee as an investment in your business.


In the U.S. you can easily register online with the eCO-service, read here.

In the U.K. you can use an online service as well, look it up here.


In Germany it’s another story. As usual copyrights are created by putting your idea in a certain form on a medium. But in Germany there’s no registration to secure your copyrights. The german copyright law states that the person who is declared as creator on published copies or the original piece of work will be regarded as the creator and therefore initial owner of copyrights, until proven wrong. (§10 UrhG)

This means, there are two ways to secure your copyrights in germany. You can publish your material and point out your creatorship. But if you don’t want to publish yet, you can also file a sealed deposit of your material with a notary, who will confirm by date and signature when he/she received your deposit. Since a notary is an official authority, the document you will receive will count as proof in court.

Knowledge is power – Francis Bacon

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