Copyright Law: How To Protect Your Work, A “Poor Man’s Copyright” Won’t Do


  1. Copyright laws were created in an effort to protect the original work of artists and individuals, including published and unpublished work. “Copyright law grants you several exclusive rights to control the use and distribution of your copyrighted work. The rights include the exclusive power to:


    1. reproduce (i.e., make copies of) the work;

    2. create derivative works based on the work (i.e., to alter, remix, or build upon the work);

    3. distribute copies of the work;

    4. publicly display the work;

    5. perform the work; and

    in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.”

  2. Eric Jackson is a producer, engineer, manager and mentor with over 30 plus years experience in the music industry. He is co-owner of the production company, 310 Music Group, and a voting member of the Grammy board.


    Jackson explains the myth around the “poor man’s copyright.” “I always get this question or I always get someone referring to what is called a poor man’s copyright. There’s this myth about poor man’s copyright, by mailing your work to yourself, you just put it in the mail and send it back to yourself,” explains Jackson. “They figure, since it’s a government stamp, the date is on it, I’ll just keep it sealed in case something happens in the future. I can take this to court and say, hey I copyrighted that song two years ago, I sent it to myself.”   


    Jackson explains the importance of individuals legally protecting their original work and why the “poor man’s copyright” will not protect against infringement of ones inventive work. “Well, first of all it’s a myth, it won't hold up in court, no court will recognize anything like that,” says Jackson. “The only thing that the court recognizes, if you go into litigation, you have to produce a certificate from, that’s the official website where you can do electronic filing of your recording works, your written work, if you’re a lyricist, a rapper or a songwriter.”
  3. Jackson expands on the “poor man’s copyright” explanation listed on, “Basically meaning, it means nothing in litigation, no judge will uphold that,” explains Jackson. “You really need to register your work properly on this site and there is a way to do that, even for the poor man.”


    Jackson explains how individuals can inexpensively protect their original works and creations. “Like in my case, I have a partner that we both come up with ideas and we work on them together, so normally when we copyright we copyright as a team,” said Jackson. “So as long as we both did work on that particular track, we put a group of songs in collections for what we call volumes.”    
  4. Jackson further explains the process:


    “You can do 20 to 25 songs at a time under one collection title. For instance, the one collection, Volume I or Volume II, the fee is $35, so instead of paying $35 20 times for 20 tracks, you put all 20 tracks under one title and it’s a collective work and we pay $35 for the entire 20 or 25 tracks. Then if we place a song with an artist, we then go back and re-copyright that song with that artist. We just pull it out of that collection and re-copyright it with the artist that we’re working with. Whether it’s a jazz artist, or a vocalist or a rapper. When you’re working with another artist they’re going to put their lyrics, whether its rapping or singing, or their melody, their instrumental if it’s a jazz artist and that has to be copyrighted too. So you’re protecting your work and the person that you’re working with the whole time that the process is going on, for whatever project it is that you’re working on. In essence, what you’re doing is a poor man’s copyright, your just doing it the legal way, the right way. Its legitimate, you’re spending $35 at one time but for multiple pieces of work that you’ve done. And it’s worth the $35 because it’s protecting you in a way that would hold up should you have to do litigation.”

  5. Jackson explains that the copyright laws are set up for all individuals, not just music industry professionals. “This is stuff that you’re creating, whether it’s a book, photos that you’ve taken, a poem, lyrics, beats, whatever it is that you’ve created and you feel like, hey this is my original work and I want to make sure I protect myself,”  says Jackson. “In this country, America, this is what you need in case someone infringes on your work by trying to claim, hey this is my work, or I had that idea first. This always settles the dispute without a shadow of a doubt, a registered piece of work with the library of congress.”
  6. Understanding Copyright Law and Exclusive Rights