Musicians Beware of the Big Myth

Ok, we’ve all heard about this “poor man’s copyright” technique, right?

We’ll explain it once again, for those who have been living in caves, but before we do, you should know right off, IT DOESN’T WORK!

NO COURT HAS EVER ACCEPTED THIS METHOD AS LEGAL PROOF OF COPYRIGHT, so don’t waste your time! But here’s what it’s supposed to do (and why it doesn’t work).

The poor man’s copyright (not copywrite) is when you mail either a CD, or sheet music, or some other physical form of your music, to yourself (or a friend) by regular, or certified mail.

The concept sounds reasonable: A few days later, when you get your songs or music back in the mail, you DON’T open the envelope. You just hide it away somewhere, in a drawer, a safety deposit box, with your underwear, and just wait until someday when someone tries to steal your song or music.

Then you whip out your sealed envelope, bring it to Court during your copyright infringement lawsuit, and let the Judge open it.

Then the Judge is supposed to think that the postmark on the envelope “proves” that the songs or music inside were in existence as of that date!

So, assuming the bad guy who has stolen your music started playing it after the date of your postmark, the Judge is supposed to tell the jury you win your copyright case, award you millions in damages and you go home, record your song and win American Idol!

Only problem is… as we’ve already said, there are NO courts we know of that have ever used a postmark from an envelope as proof in a copyright case!

Why doesn’t it work you ask? Plenty of reasons:

In fact, there are SO many ways to tamper or manipulate the postmarked envelope, or the supposed “copyrighted” music inside, that we couldn’t fit them all into just this one article.

But here are a few quick examples:

  • The most obvious way to “game” this method is to just mail yourself an empty envelope and just barely seal it (or don’t seal it at all – the post office doesn’t care if your envelope is sealed or not). Then when you get it back with its postmark, you just store it until you want to steal someone’s song maybe years later.
  • Then, sometime in the future, you stick the words and music to someone else’s song into your empty envelope with the old postmark and seal it up REAL GOOD.

    And, presto, you’ve now got “proof” that you created that song way back on the date of the postmark — since it’s “obviously” been in that “sealed” envelope all that time!

    [And if you're really clever, you could also throw in an old newspaper article when you first send yourself your "sealed" envelope, with the same date as the postmark, "proving" even further that everything in that envelope must be from that old date...]

  • Or even if you didn’t try to cheat, how do you plan on verifying the security of the sealed envelope? Bringing in scientific experts to verify you haven’t played with the envelope seals? NO expert could testify to that (or when exactly the envelope was sealed or resealed)! Remember, the post office doesn’t even check to see if envelopes are sealed!
  • Or, how are you going to prove the postmark stamp, or certified mail notice, is genuine? Find the post office person who stamped it? Yeah, right.
  • And then, of course, there’s the problem of BIAS. Who will testify in court about preparing the envelope, sealing it, mailing it, getting it delivered back to your address, how it was handled and by whom, how it was never opened, etc. etc.? YOU? Your friends? Your relatives? Do you see the problem using people close to you?
  • YOU (and your friends and relatives) are NOT “independent, unbiased witnesses.” You (and people connected with you) have an obvious stake in the outcome of any copyright case which involves YOU! Having someone who wants to win in court (or a friend) also be a witness in the same case is about the WORST thing you can do! Ask any lawyer… WITNESSES WITH SUCH BIASES HAVE NO CREDIBILITY IN COURT!. When it comes to copyright issues, you always want unbiased, independent verification as evidence!

    So as you can see, there are endless ways to cheat using this “poor man’s copyright” method. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME. IT WON’T PROTECT YOU OR YOUR SONGS! Period.

    For most composers, their songs are just too important to take such stupid chances leaving them unprotected with this myth known as the “poor man’s copyright.” Especially when you can get real protection so inexpensively, using an independent third-party registration service!

    So either register your songs with a reputable, unbiased, private music registration service, or the Copyright Office. But whatever you do, DON’T bother with the “poor man’s copyright”!

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