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What's Wrong With the "Poor Man's Copyright"?
( or using my CD or computer's date-stamp ** )
Ok, we've all heard about this do-it-yourself method for supposedly "protecting" composers, right?
Still, just in case you haven't, we'll explain it again. 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.
How it's supposed to work is: 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.
Hide an envelope?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, in with your underwear and just wait until someday when someone tries to steal one of your songs.
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 the date of that postmark! So, assuming the bad guy who stole your music started playing it after your postmark date, the Judge is supposed to stand up and cheer, tell the jury you win your copyright case, award you millions in damages and send you home to celebrate!
Only problem is... as we've already said, NO court that we could find has ever used a postmark or receipt from an envelope as proof in a copyright case! (And, trust us, we've checked and so have countless others!)
Why doesn't it work you ask? Plenty of reasons:
In fact, there are SO many ways to tamper with, or manipulate, a postmarked envelope, or the music inside, that we couldn't fit them all on just one page. But here's a few examples:
Just mail an unsealed envelope!The most obvious way to "game" this method is to just mail yourself an empty envelope, either unsealed or barely sealed (the post office never checks and doesn't care). Then when you get it back with its postmark, you just store it unused until YOU decide to steal someone else's song later.
Then you stick the words and music of the song you want to steal into your empty envelope (with the old postmark) and seal it up REAL GOOD. And, presto! You now have "proof" you created that song way back when it "got postmarked" (before the real composer actually wrote it) since it's obviously been in that "sealed" envelope all that time! Ha!
[And if you're really clever, you could stick a newspaper article in the empty envelope you mail to yourself for later use one that's dated the same as your postmark. So when you later put the song you want to steal in that same envelope and re-seal it, you've got both the postmark AND the newspaper article as even more "evidence" that you wrote the song back on that date.]
Envelope tampering is easy!Or even if you didn't try to cheat, how do you plan to verify (the legal term is "authenticate") the security of your sealed envelope? Hire scientific experts to certify you haven't tampered with its seals? Good luck with that. Nor could an expert testify to exactly when the envelope was first sealed (or resealed).
Or, how are you going to prove the postmark is even genuine? Find the post office person who stamped it or signed the certification? 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, who handled it, how it was never opened, etc. etc.?
YOU? Your friends? Your relatives? Do you see the problem with that?
YOU (or friends or relatives) are NOT independent, unbiased witnesses. You (and people connected to you) have an obvious stake in the outcome of any copyright case which involves YOU.
Having someone who wants to win in court (or friend or relative) also be a witness in the same case is the WORST possible evidence. Ask any lawyer... TESTIMONY FROM ANYONE CONNECTED TO A CASE OR PARTY HAS ZERO CREDIBILITY AS A WITNESS.
When it comes to copyright issues, you always want unbiased, independent evidence.
As you can see, there are endless ways to cheat, or offer only laughable "proof," using this do-it-yourself" method (or your computer's date-stamp). And the courts recognize this. So don't waste your time. It won't protect you or your songs.
If you're serious about your original music, don't take such silly chances relying on myths or faulty advice. Especially when you can get credible, unbiased evidence so easily and inexpensively, using an INDEPENDENT, professional registration service.
For more tips on songwriting, go to our Blog or Facebook page (linked at the bottom of our pages).
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- Nothing herein is to be construed as legal advice. Always check with an attorney before relying on legal information -
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