I keep a daily log of my ideas and thoughts when programming as it helps me keep a record of what I was thinking at the time of writing that code. My system involves a piece or pieces of paper for things I can't type, and a simple text file. I scan the pieces of paper to a pdf and have some scripts to name it appropriately and put it in the right spot. Grepping for content is fast so I take detailed notes and it's really saved me.
The idea of the poor mans copyright is that you're supposed to date and sign the contents of your work that's inside the envelope, as well as getting it time stamped by mailing it to yourself. And no the poor mans copyright doesn't legally stand up against official copyright if someone gets to the office before you but I think it is allowed to settle ownership disputes of unlicensed works (or sumat like that).
Basically it's good to do it just in case, but get copyright ASAP if you're serious about any work.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
A widely circulated strategy to avoid the cost of copyright registration is referred to as the "poor man's copyright". It proposes that the creator send the work to himself in a sealed envelope by registered mail, using the postmark to establish the date. This technique has not been recognized in any published opinions of the United States courts. The United States Copyright Office makes it clear that the technique is no substitute for actual registration. The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office discusses the technique and notes that the technique (as well as commercial registries) does not constitute dispositive proof that the work is original nor who the creator of the work is.
Scope of copy right:
The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
Limitations of copy right:
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section "What Works Are Protected."
Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be.
My question is, how do you determine if something is breaking copyright? Furthermore, how do you prove it?
There have been quite a few copyright infringement cases thrown out (Tarantino had his case thrown out, Britney Spears' case was dismissed after songwriters claimed she stole their songs, for example). Think there was even one recently where another novelist or movie was suing claiming someone had stole their story, but the judge again dismissed it saying they were nothing alike.