Hardly a week goes by without a discussion on the Internet about the legendary “poor man’s copyright.” This theory posits that an author may prove he is the creator of a work at a particular point in time by mailing himself a copy of the work, which is kept in the sealed envelope until such time as it may be needed. With the near ubiquity of email and the use of the Internet (especially by authors intent on selling their work), the old mailing tactic might just as easily be employed by one emailing himself a file.
With the advent of the Lanham Act, such quaint tactics are no substitute for registration with the United States Copyright Office, a process that takes minutes and costs only $35.
Nevertheless, the time may come when an author whose work is unregistered would discover her novel to have been stolen – perhaps by an unscrupulous beta reader – and fraudulently registered. Upon discovery, that unfortunate author might seek to register her own manuscript (as she must in order to maintain an action for infringement), which the USCO will not approve in light of the prior registration. Alternatively, the fraudulent author might (with breathtaking temerity) maintain an infringement action against the true creator.
How would the victimized author fare in her quest to prove she is the original artist?