So glad you contacted me ladybug! A 'Poor Man's Copyright' is what they call it when you mail your manuscript to yourself. After you receive it in the mail, you just keep it and don't open it. It proves that you did in fact mail it and that it's your original material. Some people swear by it, but it's ALWAYS best to get a copyright through the copyright office!
Copyright comes with the creation of the "work" however REGISTRATION of that copyright costs money. Seal the work in an envelope noteing the date time and place of the works creation. Seal it up in another envelope and mail it to your self. Place it in a safe deposit box so it doesn't get opened by accident. The court has to open it. Aviod the hassle register as the "collected works"
of: then your name. Pay the money to be safe. This info is old so changes could have been made I don't know about
I mentioned a great book on the subject in Delores' posts on copyright. Check out the title.
The latest changes in copyright law has been upgraded from what we know as The Poor Man's Copyright. The way the law reads now, if you have created the work, YOU hold the copyright to it. This is what is called: "Point Of Creation Copyright", meaning that, if you wrote it, at the point you completed it, it is copyrighted to YOU.
Now, what's the next step? Do I register with the feds, or not? Well, if you have the cash and WANT to register, that's fine. However, interesting note from that movie by Bruce Wills and Billy Bob Thornton a few years ago called Armageddon (I believe) where the meteorite was about to hit the earth, and Willis and company had to go into space to blow up that rock. IF the feds want something for 'national security' reasons, they DO have keys to the Copyright and Patent offices. And, they DON'T have to pay you a dime.
Threw that in for those who are a little ansy about the process.
Each piece of your work can be marked accordingly: (C) 2002 (the year) Joe Shultz (your name). You MAY register it, as a bundle of your work with the Copyright Office. However, you have to send in the Original, if I remember my rules correctly.
Where writers and poets get tripped up is not FULLY understanding the rights process. There are a whole slew of them, and you need a copy of The Writers Market to see a full listing of them. Here are a few off the top of my head....
Let's say you write a poem for a magazine for money. You get the cash, and want to use that poem for another magazine. Well, you can't. That was a work-for-hire agreement, which means the magazine controls WHO can publish your work, even though you wrote it! Unless you and the magazine have agreed that EACH of your published works carry YOUR copyright mark (like I mentioned before) THEY control where it is published. Same thing goes for those freelancers who write for magazines and newspapers. Unless each of your works carry your copyright mark on it, AND you have an agreement with the publication, it belongs to the publication where it is published, under Work For Hire.
Here's another one: Let's say that you are in the zone one night and come up with a beautiful 'flow', which you deliver in public at your local coffee house, or rap festival. Someone hears your work, and steals it, and makes a record, and makes a cool million. You COULD sue, and claim damages. Whether or not you would win would depend upon the agreement at the coffee house or rap festival. If they state in their contract with performers that the work is considered the performer's work, then a suit COULD bring you damages. HOWEVER, if you deliver work in the public domain and someone snatches it, and uses it themselves, you may not be able to collect because it is IN the public domain.
I'm not a lawyer on this...but a great place to do research is www.nolo.com, a legal site that has things in plain english.
Hope this helps all the writers and poets in the house.