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© 1999 Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D.

We know that the Web is an incredible research resource as well as an inexpensive place to display our writing. Unfortunately, the Web simplifies copyright infringement; some Web denizens are taking advantage of the ease of copying online text.

For example, I recently received an e-mail apology from a professor who was apologizing for one of his students who had plagiarized one of my online animal health articles. That student was caught and kicked out of school, but some instances of plagiarism can lead to the necessity of determining the legal ownership of a written work.

What can we do to prove ownership?

We know that, according to U.S. copyright law, our ownership of our written text begins as soon as we have written the text. Thus, we want to prove that we were the first to write our text.

Low Tech and Simple

When we want to establish ownership of our written texts, we can follow the low-tech method of mailing a copy of the text to ourselves. Of course, the mailing envelope version of copyright protection is not a perfect defense in a court of law.

High Tech and Simple

Now the Web that has engendered a good deal of plagiarism has also brought us a possible solution to our question of proving the origin of an article or book. We can obtain an Official Registration Certificate for our articles and books before posting the text on the Web or before sending the text to anyone else for any reason.

We can use the third-part registry to certify the time, date, and contents of the digital file containing our text. This file can be a Word file, a WordPerfect file, an HTML page for the Web, a song file, a contract, or any other file on disk. If the file is on our computer, we can register the file with records the contents of the file, along with the time, date, and ownership. That registration is stored for use when there is any question regarding the original ownership of the file and its contents.

Since we are registering through a Web site, we can use 24 hours a day, registering an article or book as soon as we have finished it. We pay a small fee, go through a simple procedure, and safeguard our work.


The fees at range from a single registration at $15 to 100 registrations at $4.50 each. This is a small price to pay for irrefutable proof of ownership.

~ Virginia Lawrence is an Information Architect who publishes both in print and online. She can be reached at or at her Web site,



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