A copyright protects “original works of authorship” such as books, articles, plays, music and art. Copyright protection ensures that no one can use your work without your permission. You do not have to register your work in order to have legal protection, but registering with the United States Copyright Office can help you prove your ownership of the work in the event that someone uses it without your permission. To qualify for copyright protection, your work must be original and cannot be part of your employment or commissioned and paid for by someone else. Ideas, phrases, slogans, procedures and lists of common information cannot be copyrighted.
Commit the work to a tangible form. Copyright is automatic once a work is created in a tangible form. Work that does not exist in tangible form, like choreographic work that is not written down, cannot be copyrighted. You do not have to publish the work or take any further steps in order to copyright protect the work. However, if you cannot prove the work is yours, or cannot prove the date on which you created the work, you may have difficulty in winning a lawsuit for breach of copyright.
Publish the work. Although copyright occurs on creation, it can be difficult to prove the date a work was created unless it is published. Publication is one one way to clearly establish a date of copyright. Publication can be any form of distributing of your work to the general public – you do not have to be paid for the work -- offering to distribute copies of your work for public display also amounts to publication. Public performance of your work, like the performance of a play you have written or performance on television or radio does not qualify as publication.
Place a copyright notice on your work, along with the date and your name. This is the © symbol. You do not need permission from the copyright office to use this symbol. You can also use the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.” followed by the date and your name. This will make it very difficult for anyone to argue in court that he was not notified the work was copyrighted.
Register your work with the United States Copyright Office. This is an iron-clad way to protect your work. You can register your work online or using a fill-in form that is downloaded, printed out and mailed in. Fees vary from $35 to $65, at the time of publication, depending on how you are registering your document. To register your work, sign up with the Copyright Office and receive a log in. You will need a computer in order to complete your registration, no matter which form you chose, as the fill-in form generates a two-dimensional bar code for each answer as you fill it in.