You wrote a work poem, made a song or took a picture. Someone steals it, claims it to be theirs and refuses to back down. How do you prove it’s yours should push come to shove? What evidence do you have that you created the work and that your version of it predates all others?
Anyone can write a date on a piece of paper. Anyone can write something today and date it 1985 and claim it to be twenty years old. Anyone can change the date on a computer file and anyone can manually roll back the timestamps on entries and comments posted to the Web.
In the end there’s almost nothing that you can do to prove you own a piece, no matter how honest your claim is.
What’s needed is third party validation. By involving a third party who has no stake in your claim (thus eliminating friends and family members) you can greatly improve the veracity of your claim.
In a previous article I discussed submitting your work to the United States Copyright Office. Though this is a great idea for many reasons, one of the critical ones is that it provides legal proof of ownership and possession on a certain date. It’s probably the strongest proof possible both in the court of public opinion and the court of law.
Another possible source of proof is the Internet Archive. The archive saves pages from the Web at regular intervals to show changes in a page over time. More interestingly, it catalogs pages and can verify that a page existed, with the content in question, on a certain date. Though it might take weeks or even months for this site to catalog your home page, if someone comes along much later and tries to claim material as their own, this provides proof that you posted that content before them.
If your site isn’t indexed in the Internet Archive, you may want to visit this site to have them crawl it ASAP. It could be the best free proof you’ll ever have.
Finally, there several services that, for a small fee, will timestamp and store your works for future evidence. Though these services seem promising, they are often very expensive and offer no protection beyond what submitting to Copyright Office offers. However, if you’re very worried, it can add a layer of protection and will often provide much more immediate results than the Copyright Office, which can take weeks or months to finalize the process.
The important thing to remember is that, in order to verify your ownership of a work you need to involve an unbiased third party and poor man’s copyright simply isn’t going to cut it. With so many potential solutions, both pay and free, you owe it to yourself to take some steps to protect your work.
Because if it was worth creating, then it’s worth protecting. It’s that simple.