An Anti-Theft Device For Your Ideas

International Herald Tribune: Five years ago, Brian Hoolahan started File-Reg because he decided there was a better way to “prove who thought up what, and exactly when.” A former television producer, he said he began the company with a notion of creating a system for people in broadcasting to protect their ideas.
Eventually, Hoolahan established four computer databases – Music-Reg, Science-Reg, Media-Reg and Software-Reg. Users can register information from engineering designs and mathematical calculations to sketches, medical notes, screenplays, manuscripts, music and lyrics.
After a file is registered, a “digital fingerprint” is made and attached to a digital certificate with a time stamp that cannot be altered, Hoolahan said. Registration costs about 15 in Europe and $18 in the United States.
So far, Hoolahan said, he has not heard of anyone using the registration in a court case, but he noted that digital certificates had been used to negotiate private clashes. Recently, he offered a lifetime of free registration to a songwriter named Steve Wallace, who sued Britney Spears in May for copyright infringement and had protected his original song by mailing it to himself. With this method, known as a “poor man’s copyright,” the postmark provides the proof of date.
The power of electronic registration, Hoolahan said, is “proof that an idea exists in a certain moment in time.” If there is a conflict later, he said, “The first thing a judge will ask is, ‘Who thought it up first?’ Being able to prove that is the hardest thing. It’s not enough to say, ‘It’s in my computer,’ because computer data can be changed.”

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. The main problem I see with this system is the same one that occurs with “poor man’s copyright”. It does nothing to prove that you thought of the idea, only that you registered it (or mailed it to yourself) on a certain date. What’s to stop an individual from stealing an idea and then registering it?
    Having said that, it may still serve as a useful tool. It may not prove that you were the first to come up with a certain idea, but it won’t hurt your case either.

  2. From the article posted on this site about registering ideas I have been checking out and from what I can see the possibilities in regard to i.e. – advertising – are quite considerable. Clients (including well known brands) walk away with concepts, ideas for campaigns, rough sketches. How many times have people changed agencies and taken not only the clients but also the IP of that agency with them. Such a simple registration system would put a stop to these practices which cost money, raises a lot of temperatures because creativity gets stolen and gives all a bad name. It’s not worth it.
    I saw also on their site a survey ( they carried out into plagiarism in the TV and Advertising world, which – as they say themselves – brings the problem of plagiarism into perspective. A relative of mine is a civil engineer, he has also run into the same problem of people plagiarizing his work