The Copyright is in the Mail - Or Is It?
Dispelling the "Poor Man's Copyright" Myth Once and For All

Copyright © 2004 Tonya M. Evans, Esquire. This article may not be copied or distributed without the consent of the author.

DISCLAIMER: The author is not engaged in rendering legal or other professional services as a result of the information contained in this article, and this article is not meant to constitute legal or other professional advice. If legal or other professional assistance is required, the services of an attorney should be sought.


The concept known as the poor man's copyright says basically that you should mail yourself a copy of your work and not open it in order to establish the date that your work existed in case you ever need to defend your work or challenge a work you believe infringes on your rights. This, unfortunately, is a pervasive and all-too-common myth that continues to be perpetuated even by established writers and it should no longer exist in the writing world! The Poor Man's Copyright does not offer any additional protection beyond that which already exists once your idea is fixed and thus your work is created. Additionally it does not constitute a registration of your copyright.

There is a prevalent but misguided school of thought within the trade publishing industry that because the amount of "theft" of book manuscripts is, in their opinion, relatively minimal it is not necessary to go to the trouble of registering your work. But registration is easy (no need for a lawyer) and inexpensive (only $30) - a small price to pay to preserve valuable rights.

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Tonya M. Evans is a Philadelphia-based literary and intellectual property lawyer and the co-author of Literary Law Guide for Authors: Copyright, Trademark, and Contracts in Plain Language