Many creators of works believe that copyrighting their work involves a very complex and costly process. Depending on the nature of your work, the actual registration process can be difficult to do correctly and you may want to enlist some help; either from an instructional eBook or book, from an attorney or from an experienced copyright registration service. The instructional eBook is probably your least expensive option, but there will normally be some cost involved in getting this assistance together with the modest fee paid to the Copyright Office and the more intangible costs associated with systematically preparing your application.
What many authors do not understand is that it is not necessary to go through the registration process to obtain copyright protection of your work. Sure, there are reasons to file a registration such as access to federal courts, ability to elects statutory damages and obtain attorney fees in an infringement case. Even though there are good reasons to register your copyright, you should not assume that you do not have copyright protection in your work if you have not filed a registration.
Copyright protection does not attach when a work is registered. Rather, it attaches upon fixation of an original work of authorship in a tangible medium of expression; basically, when you create the work. For written work, copyright protection attaches when you write it down or type it. For example, as I am typing this article, my work is becoming copyright protected. There are threshold tests that must be met such as the requirement that the work be “original.” However, the failure to register does not mean that your work is not protected or free to be used by someone else.
An idea is not protected by the Copyright Laws. If you have an idea and tell someone else about it, they are free to use your idea. Ideas can be protected by confidentiality agreements and Patent protection in appropriate cases. However, the Copyright Laws do not protect your ideas until you place them in a tangible medium of expression. Even then, the Copyright Laws will only protect you against copying or republishing substantially the same work that you create. It will not protect against the idea behind the work. For example, this article if protected by the copyright laws, but the idea of this article is not. No one can copy the article without my permission (which is granted subject to the conditions below and the policies of this article site). But anyone can read my article, think it is a good idea and sit down independent of my article and write their own article on the same topic. There are questions of how much copying or similarity to my article would be an infringement and having access to my article first is a factor. But of the new article is truly independently created so that it is an original work of authorship, it would not violate my copyright.
So now to the point of this article. Copyright protection is free. All you have to do is create an original work and place it in a tangible medium of expression. Current US law does not even require you to place a copyright notice on the item to secure protection.
If someone else finds your work on the Internet and uses it for their own purposes or beyond the license that is granted for use, they are infringing on your copyright. For example, in this article I grant the right to republish. You can take this article and place it in your Ezine or on your website, on the conditions that you maintain the full article together with the active links provided in the author bio box. In other words, the article has to stay intact and it has to be linked to my websites. If someone uses only a portion of the article, they are violating my copyright. If they do not use the active links when they publish the article, they are violating the copyright to this article.
There are plenty of reasons to register your copyright and I will cover that in other articles. Yet, the bottom line is that basic copyright protection is free.