Most people have heard of the “Poor Man’s Copyright.” If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the process of sticking a creative work in an envelope and sending it to oneself via the post office in order to have a “federal timestamp” showing when the work was created.
Unfortunately, this “Poor Man’s Copyright” is simply not a copyright, nor is it necessary. An original work receives copyright protection the moment it’s expressed in a tangible and fixed medium. So, if you write out original lyrics on paper, you automatically own the copyright to those lyrics. If you record an original beat or hook and save it to a digital file, you automatically own the copyright to that composition. There’s nothing special you have to do to receive copyright protection—it’s yours as the creator.
So, What’s the Point of a Poor Man’s Copyright?
While it’s true that you automatically receive copyright protection of original works once they are expressed in a fixed, tangible medium, you can’t actually bring an infringement case to court and hold an infringing party accountable unless that copyright is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office.
Obviously, this process takes time and money, so musicians in the past would look to the “Poor Man’s Copyright” as budget-friendly workaround. Unfortunately, many have discovered the hard way that if someone steals your music and records a smash hit, your timestamped envelope won’t give you any additional rights or power to take action under the law.
For Musicians, SoundCloud and YouTube Are the New Poor Man’s Copyright
There’s a common misconception amongst today’s artists that the act of uploading music to sites like SoundCloud or YouTube will provide an undisputable “digital timestamp” that would act as evidence should they need to go after others in court for stealing their lyrics or compositions. But, as mentioned before, this is not a copyright protection strategy. While a timestamped SoundCloud link may serve as evidence in a trial, a case will not stand in court without having a federally registered copyright first.
We urge artists to not get a false sense of security by trusting in the “Poor Man’s Copyright” of the digital age.
Getting Started with a Federal Copyright Registration
If you are serious about making sure that others cannot use your lyrics, sounds, beat tracks or any other compositions without permission, you must federally register your copyright. The time and investment you make into safeguarding your music now will make all the difference should you find someone else trying to profit from what’s yours in the future. To learn more about federal registration and to get help with the process, we invite you to contact our copyright lawyers at 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.