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Old January 7th, 2004, 10:07 AM   #1
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Different take on "Poor Man's Copyright"?

I know, from what I've read, that the Poor Man's Copyright method of mailing yourself a document is not admissable in court. However, what I'm wondering is, if you get an envelope and have a legal notary seal and stamp it, would this be an acceptable form of proof of creation? Sort of like what WGA does for scripts?

I do realize that there is no replacement for an official government registered copyright. I just have some short scripts that I'd like to at least prove creation dates on, but don't want to bother spending the money on paid registrations since they are just shorts.
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Old January 7th, 2004, 12:32 PM   #2
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As I understand it WGA still requires you to get a copyright registration. I did one for a friend and it's a piece of cake; I don't know why you would be reluctant to do it.

But you don't need to register to have copyright rights - they are automatic, as soon as expression has begun. If you're worried about legal proof of date of authoring, just publish them. But if it's unpublished, you really should register.

You could also have witnesses read the script and sign the end of the script as saying they read it. But to go to court you'd have to bring them in to testify at trial. Registration is prima facie evidence of a valid copyright, and compared to all the trouble with the other methods, it's the cheapest and most effective.
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Old January 7th, 2004, 12:41 PM   #3
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Any advice on this for us Europeans, Peter?
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Old January 7th, 2004, 01:14 PM   #4
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Peter, thanks for the info. Question though... if the item is notarized, then isn't that all you need as far as a witness? I can't imagine that notaries are always called into courtrooms to testify.

My hesitation was just because it didn't seem worth it since these are just some short scripts that I'm gradually shooting one by one. Once I shoot 'em that's pretty much proof right there, I suppose.

Also, if you get it officially registered, then is the WGA registration really even necessary? I looked on the WGA FAQ, and their only justification was this:

"Even if you have copyright through the Library of Congress, registering with the Intellectual Property Registry creates a separate legal record for your material. In addition, you may consider registering treatments or drafts of your work-in-progress with our Registry, prior to registering your final draft with the Copyright Office."

I might be missing something, but to me this sounds like WGA is just saying, "well, we can't really give you a reason but you should do it anyway because we want your $20."

You'd think they would have a better justification.
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Old January 7th, 2004, 01:42 PM   #5
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"Any advice on this for us Europeans, Peter?"

Sure, Rob. Well I can only speak to US law, but the Berne Convention and WIPO treaties require member countries to treat copyrights on foreign-made works exactly the same as they would domestic-made works. So you would want to register your work in the US if you want prima facie evidence of a valid US-protected copyright, but it's also not required if you have other evidence (such as publication). Sorry I don't know anything about European copyright law, as to whether it's automatic, what proof is required, etc.

Imran, about the WGA, I believe my friend was doing this because he needed SAG-blessing on one of his projects because he used a couple of SAG actors and they got experimental / educational status (so he didn't have to pay them). So I believe he was required to register with WGA because of that. I can't imagine why else he would have done that, unless maybe he himself wanted to get into WGA too.

Anyway, certainly a WGA registration would be helfpul and probably would be admissible in court as an unbiased business record. But it certainly won't provide you with any MORE protection than an LoC registration would. It's true that you can register early drafts with them before you send your final draft to LoC, but the copyright protects you the moment you put pen to paper, and every single draft you write is protected equally.

I guess if you're worried about someone seeing your draft and copying it before you register your final draft, you can register with WGA for some protection. That would make sense for a movie because you might have dozens of people looking at drafts before a final draft is made, even during filming itself, and you don't want to go reigster every single one. But if you just register your first draft, then you've still proven you've made the material as of that date, so no one can take a future draft and copy any material that was in the first.

About the notary, I'm reclutant to say yes that will work and have you go rely on that without registering, because really you should register to maximize your protection (and again, I don't see why you wouldn't unless you were incredibly poor), but no a notary is not required to come into court because notarized documents are self-authenticating, which means unless the other side can provide evidence to the contrary, the document as-is is considered authentic and to have existed as of the date of the notarization. I was talking more to the idea of using live witnesses to testify to your authorship. I still wouldn't use a notary though because, again, registration is cheap, and practically iron-clad. There's too many possibilities for mistakes with a notary, unless you use a lawyer, in which case it'll cost you a lot more! There'd be a lot of intermediate details there, such as drafting up the certification document which is what the notary actually stamps, that it doesn't seem worth the effort to find out how to do it right.

Simply having a notary stamp an envelope? I don't even think they'd do that. You need some kind of certification document or paragraph with a notary.
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Old January 7th, 2004, 01:53 PM   #6
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Thank you Peter, this information has been INCREDIBLY helpful.

I have some feature scripts that I will do the draft-to-WGA route and then, when done, do the LOC copyright.

As far as these shorts, I guess, as easy as it is to fill out the LOC form, and at only $30, I might as well go ahead and do it. This next short I'm filming should actually turn a small profit so it would behoove me to do things correctly.

Thanks again!
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Old January 7th, 2004, 02:58 PM   #7
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Sounds good, glad to be of help.

Remember to use Form PA, and that you can register a collection of scripts in a single application. Go to www.copyright.gov for all the info.
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Old January 7th, 2004, 11:03 PM   #8
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Re: Different take on "Poor Man's Copyright"?

<<<-- Originally posted by Imran Zaidi : I know, from what I've read, that the Poor Man's Copyright method of mailing yourself a document is not admissable in court. However, what I'm wondering is, if you get an envelope and have a legal notary seal and stamp it, would this be an acceptable form of proof of creation? Sort of like what WGA does for scripts?

Speaking as a Notary here in California, there is no provision in California Notary law for doing what you describe. We really just certify that the signature on a document is truly by that person based on reasonable proof of their identity.

We can also certify that a copy of a document is a true copy but that doesn't get you anywhere either.

Simpler just to go ahead and register your copyright I'd think.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 12:21 AM   #9
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Quote:
I know, from what I've read, that the Poor Man's Copyright method of mailing yourself a document is not admissable in court.
You've read wrong. It's admissible in court as proof of date of creation, just as any evidence is admissible, i.e. if it is properly authenticated. However, relying on this method means you don't get the legal presumptions of validity and ownership which accompany a copyright registration.

The same is true of a notarized envelope or whatever. It is proof. It is admissible if properly authenticated. It will not result in the presumptions of ownership and validity which accompany a copyright registration.

These presumptions are critical as they shift the burden of proof to the defendant.

Note, too, that, at least in the US, you cannot file suit for infringement unless you have a registered copyright, and statutory damages will be measured from the date of infringement _after_ the registration.

I do not understand why anyone has any resistance to registering a copyright. It costs the same as, for example, having something notarized. It's simple. It's fast. You don't need a lawyer to do it.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 01:02 AM   #10
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Poor man's copyright?

write, "Copyright, date & full name on document or whatever, then "double register" it to yourself. Leave it sealed when it comes back to you; put in a safe place.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 08:38 AM   #11
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I'm a bit confused. We are talking officialy copyright here and
registration at the WGA, right? You are saying that WGA might
be proof in court, but that is not garantueed (which I thought it
was)? So then only copyright is left. Can anyone tell me what
costs (in the US) are to do a WGA registration and copyright
(not saying do both, just wanting to know what it costs).

Does anyone know if I can register or copyright my work in the
US *and* in my homeland here at the same time?

I have to figure out how it is working here in The Netherlands.
Currently have no clue as to scripts.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 10:30 AM   #12
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Rob,
We're talking about a lot of different things.

- Simple copyright (US) - automatic as soon as pen is put to paper. In court, plaintiff must prove authorship and date, and valid copyright.
- Copyright registration (US) - register with the LoC for automatic presumption of authorship and date, and valid copyrightability. Defendant must rebut presumption to win on that point. Costs $30. Visit www.copyright.gov for information.
- WGA registration - Provides no additional rights. Can possibly be used in court as proof of authorship and date, but is subject to authentication, etc. Mainly used to satisfy union requirements, little legal effect, if any. Don't know what this costs.
- "Notary" / "Mailing it to yourself" - May have effect of proving authorship and date, but problems with authentication and drafting of notary certificate make this option virtually worthless.

Rob, you can certainly register your work in the US and your own country at the simultaneously. If by that you mean can you do it with one application, no you can't - you can only register a US copyright with the US Copyright Office. Sorry I don't know anything about how copyrights work in Holland so I'm afriad I can't help you there.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 10:49 AM   #13
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WGA registration is $20, or $10 for WGA members in good standing.

It's pretty convenient, because you can do it all online, using a PDF or Final Draft document, and I think Word .doc also.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 12:45 PM   #14
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Thanks for the info everyone! If I discover something local here
I'll let everbody know.
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Old January 8th, 2004, 06:02 PM   #15
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Paul,

Can you expand on the concept of Notarizing proof of mailing?

I don't know how to do that but would like to know or know where to pursue the information.

Thanks,

Mike
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