minstrel: Copyright Mundane Law as of 1997

Peter Durham peterdur at microsoft.com
Tue Jun 24 11:36:39 PDT 1997

Greetings from Trahaearn!

> > Another trick used is sometimes called the "poor man's copyright'.
> Seal
> > your work well inside of an envelope and mail it to yourself. DONT
> open it
> > when you get it but store the whole envelope with its postage mark
> as proof
> > that the work was in a complete form by such and such a day.
Actually... doing this doesn't convince many people, as it's pretty easy
to falsify. Just mail yourself a unsealed (or slightly-sealed) envelope.
At a later date, open the envelope, insert the stuff in question, and
reseal. Postmarks can also be forged easily.

However, there are other ways to solve this problem. The desired need is
1. Associate a timestamp with some content
2. Prove that the content has not been modified
3. Have this done by an impartial third party

The "poor man's copyright" only solves 1 and 3. These issues extend
beyond copyright to other domains. Solving these issues in the Internet
world is important for electronic commerce. 

One approach, "digital postmarks", is being set up by the US Postal
Service. The USPS has long had privileged status in law regarding
tampering with messages, and it's their hope to extend this status into
the electronic domain. See
http://www.aegisstar.com/uspsepm.html for more information; the program
is in a trial period. The idea is that you send them email; they hash
it, sign it, forward it to the recipient, and maintain an archived copy
of it. Of course, other approaches to the problem exist and are being
pursued by other organizations.

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