Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection, a legal means of protecting your ownership of works that you create. You can copyright your creative works such as novels, poems, art work, photos, music compositions, blueprints and sculptures at no cost. You can also spend money on additional forms of copyright protection.
What You Can Copyright
Copyright protects creative works that exist in concrete form. A poem that exists only in your thoughts cannot be protected by copyright but as soon as the poem is written down, it can be copyright-protected. The same holds true for any other idea, creation or concept; it must exist in concrete form, and it is the exact form that is protected by copyright. For example, if you have an idea for a new smart phone app and you write your description down, the exact written description is protected by copyright but other people are still free to design similar apps.
You do not need to take any action or pay any fees to copyright a creative work. As soon as the work is put in concrete form, it is automatically protected under U.S. copyright law. You can add a statement to your work indicating it is copyrighted but a statement is not necessary. A typical statements looks like this: Copyright 2011 John Doe. You can also use the C-in-a-circle copyright symbol: © 2011 Jane Doe.
Register Your Copyright
You can register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration creates a formal, federal record of your creative work and can be used in court as evidence of your creation in the event of a legal challenge to copyright ownership. You can register your work online at the Electronic Copyright Office. At time of publication the fee for online registration was $35.
Other Protection Methods
You can protect an idea using other forms of intellectual property protection. File a patent application to protect inventions or designs for manufactured items. Use trademark protection to protect the identity of goods or services in commerce.