What is the safest way to copyright a written work?
I realize there are multiple ways to copyright materials and I've heard mailing it to yourself doesn't work anymore.
Mailing it to yourself actually still does work, at least in Canada. Print it out, then mail it to yourself with registered mail. Once you receive it don't open it up, it can be used as evidence in court if you ever needed to sue somebody and prove that they stole your work.
In the US, I believe you can register your works with the United States Copyright Office.
You are right, mailing it to yourself will not work anymore.
If it's typically a play or screenplay, (any work is fine though) you can register it with the writer's guild for $20 ($22 for WGA east). Turn around time is about 2 weeks.
If you want more protection for any type of written work, you can electronically register it with the U.S. copyright office for $35. Turn around time can be several months, but you will be covered.
Both are safe, but the U.S. Copyright offers slightly more protection, especially if a legal battle ensues.
Writer's Guild west is: wga(dot)org
Writer's Guild east is: wgaeast(dot)org
U.S. Copyright Office is: copyright(dot)gov
Copyright exists in common law in many countries. It means, as soon as your work is published, you gain the copyright protection regardless if you register it with the government or not. You can register copyright with the government to ensure the protection. However, the difficult is in the enforcement. Do you have the money to enforce it? Legal fees and court fees can be expensive. Even after you win damages in court, does the infringer have enough assets available to pay?
You can register your work with the copyright office. Some people mail the work to themselves by taking it to the post office and getting the date stamp and location on the envelope. Then they keep it sealed until/if they need it. This provides proof of date.
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