My friend told me I could copyright my poetry by sealing it in an envelope and mailing it to myself. She called it a “poor man’s copyright.” I want to make sure no one else can steal my work. Does this really work?

Thanks for the question! This is one we hear about all the time, and you’re smart to do some research before going ahead. Your creative work is important, and it’s a good idea to make sure you get to decide when it gets used, and how.

According to copyright.gov, the official website of the United States Copyright Office, the long-held belief that sending your work to yourself through the postal service is just a myth. The stamped date on an unopened envelope doesn’t prove that you created the document. To quote the experts:

“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.”

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on copyright.gov  answers a lot of basic questions about how to protect your work. It’s a great place to start looking for information. They cover what copyright protects, the difference between a copyright and a patent, how copyright works internationally, and what benefits registering your copyright gives.

There’s also a subject guide on the Library website that can take you to some great resources on copyright. The subject guide can help you investigate an existing copyright to find out who owns the rights to the work or, more importantly for you, how to file for copyright yourself.

If the online information doesn’t cut it, you can request a book through our catalog, or just drop by the Central Library Downtown. The 6th floor maintains a Patent & Trademark Resource Center that includes a bunch of materials on Copyright and intellectual property. We aren’t lawyers, but we can point you to good information, and our staff can help point you to the next step. 

And of course the Patent & Trademark Resource Center also sponsors workshops that cover information about the difference between patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Check with the 6th floor staff, or call 214-670-1468 to register for classes.

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