Protecting intellectual property (IP) can be a challenging yet important task. When you put so much work into a script, you don’t want someone else to take your IP and use it without your permission. However, registering your script with the U.S. Copyright Office isn’t free, and if you’re having trouble meeting your expenses, you might be tempted to cut corners.

The concept of the ‘poor man’s copyright’ is sometimes presented as a low-cost alternative to formally registering your creative work. But what is the poor man’s copyright, and will this method hold up in court if someone infringes on your script’s copyright? Is it a good option for avoiding copyright fees?

What are the Basics of Copyright Registration?

Owning the copyright to your script is absolutely free and automatic. If you wrote it, you own it unless you specifically wrote it for another person or entity under contract. However, things get trickier if you ever need to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Copyright registration is important for proving who originally authored a script, song, novel, or any other creative work. It creates a permanent record of the work that can be transferred if necessary, showing the author, copyright holder, and the year the work was written. If someone infringes on the copyright, prior registration offers more benefits and protections than a piece of work without a formal copyright record.

What is the ‘Poor man’s Copyright’?

The copyright process is fairly inexpensive and easy to complete online. However, some people believe that sending yourself a copy of your script in the mail, which is sometimes known as the poor man’s copyright, is sufficient protection. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true, and doing this does not offer any additional benefits beyond automatically owning the copyright.

Are There Other Ways to Protect Your Script?

If you don’t have the money to register your script right now, you aren’t totally vulnerable to copyright infringement. You don’t have to register unless infringement occurs and you want to file a lawsuit.

If you do end up in court to fight for your work, people who knew you when you were working on the script can be witnesses on your behalf. You can also email a copy of your script to yourself to prove when it was written. These aren’t ideal solutions, but they can help protect your script if you are unable to pay for copyright registration at this time.

To learn more about how copyright registration and infringement cases work, give our Beverly Hills, CA law office a call at 323-230-6200. Our experienced Southern California Entertainment lawyers can help you separate fact from fiction so you can protect your scripts and IP.