Well, nobody ever said not to do that!

I did some repair work for a friend of mine. He sent me a pre-addressed and pre-stamped flat-rate box to mail the repaired items back to him.
He never received them.
When he looked up the tracking number, it said that the box was in the possession of the USPS. He called the local postmaster, and eventually found out that the box was shunted aside due to “security” issues. He did some more digging, and found out that when the address and return-address match, it’s a big red flag. He gave them permission to open the box and check the contents.

Which they will hopefully not do with a water cannon.

He thought he was being clever by addressing it that way, but I guess not.

Jeez! if you were mailing something home from a distance (like souvenirs from Disney World to your home in California) you wouldn’t want to put the address of the Orlando hotel you’re staying at for the return address. And leaving the RA blank is probably a red flag, too. You can’t win!

I once had a roommate who said he avoided having to buy stamps by addressing mail to himself, putting the actual recipient’s address as the return address, and not putting a stamp on it. Then when the post office caught the lack of postage they would “return” the letter to the person he actually wanted to send it to.

That might work if you were sending something locally, but I wonder if the post office would figure out the trick if the return address for the unstamped letter was in a completely different city from where it was mailed.

I believe that worked a while (40+ years ago) back, but now the “sender” gets a notice in the mail box to go to the post office and pay the postage due charge to get the letter.

I have it on good authority that this is how a lot of drugs are (were?) shipped. Someone will vacuum pack a bunch of whatever and then ship it to across the state or country to their recipient. But they won’t send it directly to them, they’ll send it to an empty property (say, a house that’s for sale) nearby. The recipient keeps an eye on the place and as soon as they see a package sitting on the porch, bingo. Of course the package has a fake name on it, and the return address is the same as the sender’s address so the PO has no choice (did have no choice? Sounds like things have changed in some places) but to leave it.

I don’t know if this still works – or if it ever worked – but back in Junior High, our guitar teacher said if you wrote a song but couldn’t afford the copyright fee, make a lead sheet and mail it to yourself (sealing up the envelope completely) and the cancellation date would work as an ersatz copyright if someone tried to “jump your claim.” Have you ever heard 20 guitar students roll their eyes at the same time?

That’s the one that makes a bit of a wet squishy sound, right? Or is that the one that makes a faint rattling sound?

So much for the old “mail documents to yourself to have legal proof of date” trick I guess.

I just last week got a letter back that I mailed that was slightly overweight, with “postage due” scribbled on it.


First of all, there is copyright and there is copyright. As soon as you put something into a “fixed form” it is automatically copyrighted.

So why bother registering it? The simple answer is that if you just have the created item and no registration, you are limited to actual damages. However, if you actually pay the registration fee and register the copyright, then you can sue for statutory damages and can also sue for legal fees and such. The “poor man’s copyright” is not considered an alternative to registration.

If you mail it to yourself and someone tries to “jump your claim”, it’s basically the same as if you wrote down your sheet music and just let it sit on a shelf. It’s not considered a legal method to establish date, and it’s not the equivalent of registering the copyright, so you are limited to actual damages. You can’t sue for statutory damages, and you can’t sue for legal fees. You might as well save yourself the postage and just file it away somewhere.

My oldest brother says this as well. He’s actually written songs, so he’s done it a hundred times.

I doubt he’s ever been challenged. No one wants to be associated with his crappy songs close to their name.
I heard Harry Nilsson said this about copywriting.

I’ve never seen an explanation of the logic of this. If I write a song or a book or something, and somebody who sees it copies and tries to “jump my claim”, I can only sue for actual damages? Okay, so far so good. But if I try to sue someone, don’t I need to show some kind of evidence that I had it first?

If I just let it lay on the shelf, how do I prove that I had it first?

If I’ve mailed it to myself, doesn’t that at least provide the evidence that I had it first?

Nope. It’s too easily faked. For example. you could take an old envelope that wasn’t sealed properly, put your fake new claim inside, and seal it properly this time, making it appear that your item had been mailed years ago when it hadn’t.

From a legal point of view, all you have is the sheet music, which is exactly what you’d have if you hadn’t bothered mailing it.

Jeff Beck-da-wrek? :rofl:

Jever-da-wreck, probably.

This happened at a company I worked for but instead of a fake address they used my company’s address. I opened it up and it was a box of Thai sticks. Long story short there was a police stakeout but nobody ever showed to collect the box.

Typically your proof (without registration) is some type of publication. If you never published or distributed it in any way, you are not going to be able to prove the date you created the work. The courts won’t consider a postmarked envelope as evidence. IANAL.

So, in effect, having this “automatic copyright” merely by putting a work into “fixed form” is utter, totally, completely meaningless, useless, unenforceable, and just a pretty legal fiction.

And a court would not consider the condition of the envelope in weighing a copyright claim?

I did this once with a document I wrote. (It was an excerpt of a computer program I was working on.) I put it into a large brand new manila envelope and took that to the post office in person to mail it to myself. The clerk at the post office hand-stamped it with a postmark in five different places, right where the flap of the envelope was sealed, just like a king affixing his signet in wax to a royal document, and handed it back to me. There was no way that could have been tampered with, without being obvious?

Just how damn useless can this “automatic copyright” law be? And could our courts be any more impotent and worthless in cases like this?

Well, if you had mailed it to somebody else, you would have had a witness to the fact that the document existed at least from that date, and who could corroborate your claim that it appeared to have originated with you. That might have been more useful than mailing it to yourself.

You acquire copyright in something simply by virtue of having created it… Nothing else is needed. But in order to enforce your copyright in any meaningful way, you have an evidentiary problem; how do you prove that you created it? Registration systems are a classic solution to evidentiary problems - you prove that a given individual was born on a given date by registering the birth and producing the birth certificate whenever required; you prove that you bought Blackacre from me by registering your purchase with your state’s land registration authority and producing the certificate that they issue.

But, just like you have been born even if nobody registered your birth, you have created a literary work even if you don’t register the fact. And in principle you can prove these things by other evidence, though it can be troublesome and/or expensive and/or uncertain. But don’t complain about the evidentiary problems; a way of avoiding them through registration is provided by the benevolent state, and if your choice is not to register, that’s a choice to deal with the evidentiary problems.

You’re welcome to try the envelope thing. But the courts will look askance on it; how do we know that the envelope wasn’t tampered with? Plus there’s a practical issue; once the envelope is opened, it loses all probative value because, of course, if the envelope is already open when you present your evidence to me, how do I know that the document wasn’t inserted after the envelope was opened? So if you’re complaining that I have violated your copyright and I say “show me your evidence” you will refuse; you don’t want to open the envelope except in the ritual of court proceedings, in the presence of the judge and the parties. Which means I’m unable to evaluate your claim; I either have to take your unsupported word for it that you created the work, or expose myself to the time, cost and risk of court proceedings which cannot settle but must go to trial. That’s a pretty lousy mechanism for resolving copyright disputes, and I can see why the courts would not go out of their way to encourage it.

Okay, I get that mailing something creates “evidence” that only works once.

But my point remains, that creating a copyright simply by virtue of having created the work is a totally phony legal fiction.