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Poor Man's Copyright does not work

Updated on June 26, 2011

After seeing the Poor Man’s Copyright method repeated time and time again in online forums and even in other HubPage articles as a legitimate form of copyright I had to write an article to dispell this myth. Poor Man’s Copyright has been roundly dismissed for several years, yet it still persists because it is constantly being circulated by those writers who have been told by someone else that it was a good way to copyright your work.

What is Poor Man’s Copyright?

A Poor Man’s Copyright refers to sealing your writing up in an envelope and mailing it to yourself. Thus giving a date when it was first written.

However, this method can be faked. There is nothing stopping a person from mailing an empty envelope to themselves and then sealing it once they get it back.

The US Copyright office says:

“The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “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. “

Already Copyrighted

When you publish something online or in print, it is already copyrighted to you. The only time you need to register for a copyright is if you plan on seeking legal proceedings against those who steal your work.

A DMCA notice will often be enough for your work to be removed from sites that have copied it. Before that, you should try contacting the person who copied the work and ask them to remove it. Most people will comply with such a request. If they refuse and they have Google Adsense you can file the DMCA notice through Google. 

Scrapers Beware

Hopefully, the practice of wholesale copying of online content will be lessened due to the new rules that Google is bringing in over sites that scrape content. Hopefully, one day those scrapers will disappear from online writing altogether and slink back to other types of spamming.


Submit a Comment

  • Ardie profile image

    Sondra 6 years ago from Neverland

    I have so much to learn! I didn't even know about the practice of sealing work in an envelope to mail to yourself. But if it doesn't work then I guess it doesn't matter. Thanks for this informative article!

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

    I agree that the envelope method is unnecessary, given that your work is originally copyrighted when you write it. And there are usually other methods to proving its writing date i.e. storing it somewhere online. Voting this Up and Useful.

  • GClark profile image

    GClark 6 years ago from United States

    Voted Up! Great information and extremely useful Hub. Thanks for sharing. GClark

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 6 years ago from Long Island, NY

    I never bothered mailing myself my own work but now I know it's useless anyway. I have always just marked all my work as copyrighted.

    The scrapers will have a more difficult time now since Google is supporting Authorship Markup. Hopefully that will help protect all of us.

    Thanks for writing about this and clearing up the misunderstanding about poor mans copyright. I voted up and useful.

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 6 years ago from TEXAS

    Excellent information, Susan. Extremely valuable! I appreciate it!

  • annmackiemiller profile image

    annmackiemiller 6 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

    this was really interesting. thanks for sharing. voted up useful and interesting.

  • carriethomson profile image

    carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

    hey didnt know about the poor mans copywrite so using it is out of question but know that i know of it i also do know thats its not avalid copy rite!! thanks


  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

    AWESOME UV! Direct and to the point without a smidgen of question! The Poor Man's Copyright has been the bain of many who think they are protected. This is a hub every online writer should read. Thanks for sharing!



  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

    Hi, I never realised that sending it to yourself was called that, I have only done that once years ago, thanks for the info, cheers nell

  • profile image

    Ed Kassner 6 years ago

    Good stuff--Good to know (but not for me to wory much) My stuf is so bad that I get paid not to write.Im still searching for the spell check button.O boy I just hit the del button and my toilet flushed o boy see ya latter thanks (ED.

  • CMCastro profile image

    Christina M. Castro 6 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

    Thank you for explaining this process to me. I enjoy telling everyone that I am a "published" writer on line on HubPages, I trust the good faith of others that their own is their own, and they respect my originality and authenticity of my work. Good to meet you here.

  • frogyfish profile image

    frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America

    Right on! Thanks for sharing your valid take on this process.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

    Thanks much! Glad I came across this hub, and your work. So much to learn... Voted up.

  • cjmo75 profile image

    cjmo75 6 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

    Scraper's suck! I'm sick of having my superior content butchered by morons who can't even write a sentence, let alone a 500 word article that makes sense. I'm one of the best writers on the internet anyway, so anyone elses's content is sub-par to mine to begin with.

  • profile image

    ryankett 6 years ago

    I have often wondered to be honest, about how you would go about proving the contents of an envelope, so great hub UW :)

  • Uninvited Writer profile image

    Susan Keeping 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    Not according to the US Copyright Office.

  • profile image

    hillbillybob 6 years ago

    Has the "poorman's" copywrite ever been upheld in a court?

  • DaNoblest profile image

    DaNoblest 6 years ago from California

    Thank you! I need to show this hub to my dad. He is always going on about doing this no matter what I say.

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 7 years ago from North Carolina

    Bravo! UninvitedWriter. I remember the poor man copy right from the 70s, glad I didn't take his advise. Fine hub.

  • Sally's Trove profile image

    Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

    Excellent information, not distributed nearly enough. Let's hope this gets the ball rolling on dispelling this myth, at least at HP to start. Up and useful...if there were an "essential" option, I'd have chosen that.

  • attemptedhumour profile image

    attemptedhumour 7 years ago from Australia

    It would be the ultimate compliment i suppose, wouldn't it?

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales


    Thanks for this interesting and very useful hub.

    I was a little doubtful about some of these procedures, that's why hubs such as this one are priceless.

    Usefuland up for this one.

    take care


  • Karanda profile image

    Karen Wilton 7 years ago from Australia

    The Poor Man's Copyright procedure never made much sense to my way of thinking. What was stopping anyone from putting the written piece in the envelope after the event? Good Hub, thanks for clarifying.

  • 2besure profile image

    Pamela Lipscomb 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    Thanks for the clarification. I always heard this was true.

  • profile image

    Nancy's Niche 7 years ago

    Thanks for clarifying the “poor man’s copyright”. I’d never heard of that terminology before. Everything I write, or photograph and post to my sites includes © designation just to be on the safe side. Good article and video…

  • janiek13 profile image

    Mary Krenz 7 years ago from Florida's Space Coast

    I hadn't heard of the poor man's coptyright, but that is good to know. I have a huge problem with my hubs being copied, wasn;t sure how to handle it, thanks for the info.

  • Peter Owen profile image

    Peter Owen 7 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

    interesting, never heard that term used. Nice post.

  • Becky Puetz profile image

    Becky 7 years ago from Oklahoma

    Great information to know. Thanks for sharing.

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Was just trying to find something out about this online. Thanks for clarifying this for me great hub!

  • Pcunix profile image

    Tony Lawrence 7 years ago from SE MA

    Because someone mentioned this recently, I also wish to point out that file dates on your own computer do not prove anything either. Any competent geek can alter the date of a computer file.

    Publishing on the web provides proof from disinterested parties.

  • Pamela N Red profile image

    Pamela N Red 7 years ago from Oklahoma

    We are always at risk when we put information on the web. Good information.

  • profile image

    WildIris 7 years ago

    I always wonder about this. Thanks for sharing the information.

  • Frieda Babbley profile image

    Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

    Great article, uninvited writer, and very important to know. Thanks much for the info and dispelling the myth.

  • robie2 profile image

    Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

    glad you brought this up UW and that you are getting the information out there about the " poor man's copyright" I'm also glad that google is going to finally change their algorythm to put scrapers at a disadvantage--let's hear it for high quallity original content and adequate protection for writers

  • Randy Godwin profile image

    Randy Godwin 7 years ago from Southern Georgia

    What am I going to do with all of these used envelopes now, Susan? Doh!

    Your explanation of why this method is faulty makes perfect sense. Up she goes!