Why using certified mail as “copyright registry” is not a good hack

Sending a certified mail to oneself is what some people call “poor man’s copyright”. Truth be told, this system is a combination of both popular beliefs and urban tales.

Certified mail doesn’t certify content

First of all, there is one big difference to consider when comparing this “hack” to private digital copyright registration services. A certified mail certifies that an envelope is sent, but it doesn’t prove anything about the content inside of it.

You could certify the sending of several empty envelopes, partially-closed, and the post company wouldn’t notice. Then, when necessary, fill in an envelope with a given work and close it to “prove” that the work existed on that date. 

Sounds sneaky, but easy, right?

That’s why an experienced lawyer could easily challenge such a proof by mocking this type of so-called “evidence”.

On the other hand, Safe Creative and other private registries do irrefutably certify both the content, the registered work itself, and the time when it is registered. In our case, we use two different timestamping services to certify the exact moment of the registry, and we also take several digital hashes/fingerprints of the uploaded files.

It doesn’t inform others

It’s also very important to notice the dissuasive role of registrations. Informing others about the registration is a key factor to warn potential infringers and avoid misuse of your work. The “poor man’s copyright” solution isn’t public. Other people can’t know that you have indeed registered your work. It’s another missing convenience.

It’s more time-consuming

And if all of that wasn’t enough, sending real envelopes to yourself takes more work. It requires analogue processes such as printing the work, recording it on a DVD, a CD, or an SD card. The registration process at a digital private service is faster and more flexible: you can upload finished works from your computer, in a moment, update and manage different versions, claim co-authorships, and much more.

It’s a single-use solution

The certificates that you can download from a registration service facilitate their use in court as many times as necessary.

One can’t use “Poor man’s copyright” more than once.

It’s not the intended purpose of certified mail

Registration services have to certify content, claim, and time. They also have to publicly show that the record exists, if the rights holder chooses so. In other words, registration services have to comply with certain characteristics that copyrights holders need.

Poor man’s copyright is, as the first adjective shows, quite poor as it fails to deliver on key issues.


Cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.


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