What is a poor man’s copyright?
When an artist or a writer is creating his work it is under copyright protection in the moment it is finished and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a device or machine. But owning the copyright is not enough. If there is a copyright infringement of your work you have to prove that this is your work and you have created that work before the others have copied it from you.
There are several ways to prove that you are the author. They can be generalized in two groups. The first group is the registration in the U.S. Copyright Office. And the second is a group of all the other ways of proving the copyright - the group of “poor-man’s copyright”.
What exactly means “poor-mans copyright”? The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is called “poor man’s copyright”. Mailing your work to yourself and keeping the unopened and postmarked envelope as proof of right of ownership has no substantive legal effect in the United States. Such mail may serve to establish how long you have possessed the ownership of the work, but since the postmarked and sealed envelope could be so easily circumvented, it is very doubtful that it can serve as a proof. Courts would pay no regard to such evidence as a reliable one.
There is another option of sending to you the created work - by email or another digital way. But as it has been proved the Internet data bases are rather easy to circumvent and hack. That is way no court of law is willing to take in to account such proof.
The third way of the second group is variation of “poor-man’s copyright”. Again it is self-mailing but the envelope is sealed with the signs and stamps of notary. It is made as notary act and it is kept as a copy in the notary protocols.
This is in theory the most common ways of using the “poor-man’s copyright”. There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection and it is not a substitute for registration. It is not yet located a case of its use where an author’s copyright is established and successfully defended in a court by those methods.
The “poor-man’s copyright” proves the date at which you have gain access to that work, how long you have possessed that work. Court disputes are not about who possess something first - those are the patent disputes. Copyright disputes are about who created the work. “Poor-man’s copyright” proves only that you had access to the work from the postmarked date but it does not mean that you have created this work. It is highly recommended to register your work in U.S. Copyright Office if you want to gain good proves in a future law dispute and it only worth 30-35$ and can be done trough Internet in insignificant amount of time.
The “poor-man’s copyright” does not give you protection for copyright infringement. Its overall coast is little cheaper than the registration in the Copyright Office. If the “poor-man’s copyright” is a proof it is a “regular” one and the registration is a “special” one - in the law there is a rule that the “special” act overrule the “regular”, so you will have to spend a lot of money for lawyer and court disputes to find more “regular” proves to beat the registration in the U.S. Copyright Office. So save your money when you act professionally and register you work.