You don’t need a copyright registration in order to legally own your intellectual property–but there are definite benefits to US Copyright Office/USCO registration that you should consider when weighing your options.
Option #1: No USCO Registration
Because copyright ownership is yours immediately upon creation of a work, you don’t need to register in order to claim that ownership. But, as we mentioned, proving it in court is another matter.
Option #2: Poor-Man’s Copyright
The poor-man’s copyright (the practice of mailing your own work to yourself and leaving the package sealed, ostensibly proving prior ownership in a dispute) is a popular method among creative professionals. But does it work?
In fact, this would never work to prove legal ownership in a court of law, and a simple application of logic reveals why: you can mail yourself an empty envelope, leave it unsealed, and place anything you wish in it at a later date. Does this prove that you own anything? Of course not.
In fact, the USCO even mentions this specifically:
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.
[Read more: USCO’s “General FAQ” ]
Option #3: USCO Registration
The choice is clear: the only way to successfully sue someone for copyright infringement is with an official USCO registration on file. It’s the only way to legally prove ownership.
And why not? It’s only $35. If you fail to prove your legal ownership because you tried to save $35, you could risk losing far, far more than that through copyright infringement that you’re not able to defend against.
Do the right thing: Register your copyright with the USCO.