Alternatives?

A review of commonly quoted alternatives to registration

‘Poor man’s copyright’ and other solutions.

We are sometimes asked about alternatives to a registration with the UK Copyright Service.

Historically there has been a lot of myth and assumption about copyright evidence, and methods to protect your rights; but it is precisely because of the poor provision of these methods that this service was established. Unfortunately many of these are widely quoted as solutions even today.

This page looks at the most commonly cited alternatives and their merits.

Postal service / envelope systems

Perhaps the most common myth is that all you need to do is send a copy of the work to yourself in the post, and keep it safe until you need it as evidence.

Any system where you retain the evidence yourself is very weak as it provides no independent evidence, and means that a court or tribunal would only have your word that you actually placed the work in the envelope at the time of posting.

You could, for example:

  1. Open and reseal the envelope (over time the glue will break down anyway), or,
  2. Fake the postal stamp (assuming it had a legible date in the first place), or,
  3. Send an unsealed (or poorly sealed) envelope and add contents later.

Additionally, unlike registration with ourselves, this method offers no protection against fire (or other disaster), and if your work is on electronic media it offers no protection against the media degrading over time and becoming unreadable. By contrast, registered works are backed up regularly to protect against media degradation and are stored across geographically separated locations to prevent loss in the event o a fire or other disaster.

If you use the postal service (sometimes called ‘poor man’s copyright’), or any commercial system which requires you to store the work yourself, there is no evidence to say that the contents have not been swapped, or that you did not seal the envelope years later. It is so easy to cast doubt on such evidence, we believe it is next to worthless.

Lodging a copy with a bank or solicitor

Despite the professional nature of these establishments, copyright witnessing is not their main concern, and they are unlikely to understand the scale of the undertaking required to provide an adequate service.

Things that could go wrong include:

  • Data loss:

    If your work was submitted in an electronic format, compact disc, DVD, etc. or even stored on a PC/server, there is a risk of data corruption, which increases with time. The same principal applies to magnetic media - cassettes, video tapes, etc.

  • Disaster:  

    If your solicitor or bank’s premises either burn down, have a flood or similar problem.

  • Loss of evidence for future cases:

    They are unlikely to provide duplication services, so if you use the evidence once, it will not exist to protect your work from future disputes.

In fact, we often receive work from solicitors who simply pass items onto the UK Copyright Service as they know that we have the proper facilities to deal with this type of undertaking.

Dates on computer files

Often people assume that because their computer adds a creation and modified date to files, that this is itself evidence of when the files were created.

This is not the case, it simply shows what time the computer thought it was. Faking such evidence is a simple case of changing the date back on the computers internal clock and creating the file; the file now has the new ‘fake’ date (please do not try this out, as this may cause some subscription licensed software programs to stop working).

Similarly any meta data in the files (e.g. ID3 tags, EXIF data, etc.) can easily be altered by anyone with the appropriate editing software.

Emails

Sending a copy of your work to yourself by email appears to a growing myth; the modern day version of sending to yourself via the regular postal service.

Unfortunately, an email is little more than a text file, and it is incredibly easy to edit the date or any other content (to try for yourself, simply save an email to your computer and open it with a text editor). A more sophisticated option, for anyone with a passing knowledge of coding and access to email server tools (such as on any Linux system) should be able to quickly create a script (e.g. in PHP, bash, Python, etc.) that will be able to send emails with forged sender, date, etc.

Additionally, there is no verifiable audit trail of what was sent. Email server logs will generally show (1) who an email was addressed to, (2) who the sender claimed to be, and (3) the sender IP address, but not the content or even the subject.
Additionally, your email provider must ensure that this data is routinely deleted as (1), (2) & (3) all qualify as 'personally identifiable' data under General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and is therefore illegal to keep indefinitely (at the risk of massive fines).