Friday, June 03, 2005

Copyright and Wrong . . . So Very Wrong

Someone posted and I cried . . . (paraphrase)

This person, working in a LAW OFFICE mentioned the PMC, or Poor Man's Copyright. The usual bull shit about printing your work. Then sign, and date it. Then seal the envelope and take it to the post office to get a "really clear" date stamp. Finally, mail it to yourself and do not open.

This poster thinks this is a good idea. God, what are they teaching children these days. I hope she is not a bloody agent or editor.

Bob queried . . .

What is the name of that law firm? I do not want to hire them by accident.

You are describing the well known "Poor Man's Copyright." A completely worthless exercise to be sure. Hapless writers that do not know any better commonly accept the PMC as fact. Writers (and others) have been discussing this "poor man's copyright" for a very long time. Long before the web arrived.

I am surprised that any legal firm worth a bloody damn would suggest that the PMC is a valid substitute for proper protection. I truly hope your old firm does not work with writers and their IP rights.

Try this: find half a dozen envelopes, affix some stamps, and mail the envelopes to yourself. Do not seal the envelopes. In many cases, a few of the envelopes will arrive in your mailbox still unsealed. I still have one from 1974; perhaps I will put Harry Potter in the envelope and gets me some more money when I sue for IP violations.

Put those envelopes in a safe place for a year or so. When you surf across some nice poe-try or an e-book with potential, you are set. Simply print a copy, dig out those envelopes you saved, insert the document, and seal the envelopes.

Bingo! You now have a sealed envelope with a year old postmark, thus "proving" that you wrote the poems last year. Get my drift? This approach simply does not hold gin, and anyone with a lick of sense should understand why it does not work. The copyright office clearly spells out the PMC myth. So why continue to believe the PMC has value?

The 'mail it to yourself' protection will not hold up in federal court, and that is all that matters. Whenever you decide to go to court, you damn well better have a leg to stand on. If it does hold up, the case most likely will not pass muster upon appeal. Courts will not accept the PMC as proof of anything because it is effortless to manipulate. So it is reasonable to assume your case will be tossed before it starts.

Some people have suggested that posting one's work in a Yahoo group is a way to protect their work. After all, there is a date and time stamp, so it should be easy to prove who first wrote and posted what. The problem is, who knows if the poster's work is original or not. For all we know, someone copied and pasted the dribble from some other writer's web site.

I must always ask people if they are truly willing to take their case to court and fight. Many talk a good talk, but they will never walk into a courtroom. It really matters very little what most people say publicly; chances are they will never hire a lawyer and go to court. That takes time and money.

If you want proper protection, properly protect the work. Regardless of the idea that once "fixed in tangible form" your work is completely protected, please do not forget one essential provision in the copyright act. You must formally protect the work before you head to federal court.

To quote the government site, "Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin." This is a direct quote.

Keep in mind that in some jurisdictions, your IP rights might be also covered under personal property rights law. So, while you are reading the official law, search for any provisions in your local laws.

We must protect our rights. Every writer on this list should take IP rights as seriously as they would a heart attack. We sell words and we manufacture sentences. Our work is often unique. The success of Harry Potter proves that an assembly of words and letters can eventually be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The revenue generated by the series of HP books, the merchandising, and the movies is perhaps near a billion dollars.

Unfortunately, the general public seems to think "so what..." it is just writing." Harry Potter can buy and sell all of these people. Theft is theft, period.

What we manufacturer is every bit as important to us, as the products a Sony or General Motors manufacturers. The penalties for theft must be strong. However, we must be willing to enter a court from time to time. Jabbering on and on about our rights matters very little, if we are not willing to properly defend our rights. Most people will not fight, so the problem gets worse.

By now, most of you know the horror stories about those 12-year-olds in trouble for illegally downloading music. I once thought that this treatment was over the top and the recording industry was perhaps out of line. I am not so sure anymore.

When you examine the facts of these cases, it seems simple. Someone stole someone's property and distributed illegal copies to the world in wholesale quantities. We should hold people accountable for their actions, should we not? Suppose we catch children shoplifting CDs from a store? Would we feel the same?

If little Tommy's mom is forced to shell out a few thousand of dollars in fines and court costs, word will spread and perhaps other parents will start taking the MP3 download issue seriously. Perhaps we need many more arrests, angry court cases, many judgments and lots of press.

Sadly, when a band takes a stand and they enforce their legal rights, the fans often turn sour. Apparently, you can be a much beloved band until you stop your fans from stealing you blind. Then you suck.

The press paints these bands as an industry backed, rich, cold, heartless entity going after an innocent child and financially destroying a family. I say, punish them all. A day in court might wake most people up and they will stop illegal downloads. Perhaps the first time, fines might not needed to make a point.

I am willing to bet that most people know exactly what they are doing when they obtain illegal MP3 files, and most people know that it is wrong. Then again, many people do not view the work of artists and writers as important. To many, if it is on the Internet, it is free. They liberally use the right click button, "save as," control-c and control-v to create their web sites.

Sadly, their skewed sense of morality tells them this is acceptable behavior. The web makes it easy to find stuff to steal and many people do just that.

Perhaps when someone infringes, we should welcome a heavy hand, large fines and more newspaper articles to explain to a largely clueless public just why lifting our words is bad.

For you web wonks, review this information:

Bob Maxey - Salt lake City, Utah


At 4:33 AM, Blogger shinanos said...

...oops, too long for me to read & understand. Phew!
I happened to meet your blog, while I'm blogging for my own, actually... And I'm also in something publishing, hopefully maybe. But alas, your writing is difficult for me to translate!

At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

True - check out the Poor Man's Copyright site at Explains easily what was mentioned above. Dont trust the Poor Man's method.


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