poor man’s copyright (doesn’t actually work)

A few weeks ago I’d found a discussion online discussing easy ways to protect writing before it gets sent out to be considered for publication, and the fellow who wrote the article advocated something called ‘Poor Man’s Copyright’. The basic idea is that if you take a copy of your manuscript, go to the post office, and mail it to yourself. The postal date will show that you wrote it first. Sounds pretty smart?

Except… it’s a writer’s myth.

Google the term. It isn’t protected by law. If you ever do need to prove that you wrote something first– which shouldn’t happen, but if you do need to– this won’t do a thing for you where a court is concerned.

I’m bringing this up because when I read the original discussion, I included a link to the government copyright page in my comment saying that the method was legally useless. The journal moderated its comments, and my remark was not approved. It seems to be a rather terrible way to make certain that ‘you’re right’, especially since the blog had a large number of younger authors following it.

I’ve heard some people in the publishing industry say that protecting your manuscript like this isn’t needed, because professionals would never rip you off. I’ve also seen others insist that getting a formal copyright is just a smart thing to do. Being the cynic that I am, I think I’d rather pay the small fee and agree with the latter. Anyone involved in publishing/editing/agenting can feel free to disagree with me on this.