I find there's a lot of confusion by beginning writers about copyright. Some think that they don't own a copyright to the work unless it has been published and their name appears on the inside with that little circled C and a date.
Some think they own the copyright, and they never have to do anything else about the matter.
Some think when they sell a book, the copyright is automatically, legally posted as being theirs, and the publisher does something, they really don't know what, to ensure that this is true.
Just to clarify, there are two issues here: copyrighting a work and registering a copyright.
From the moment of creation, the creator of the work is vested with the copyright. By virtue of that fact, your creative work is yours to "sell" to whomever. Actually, you're not really selling it. You're selling the right for another party to publish it or produce it. There are many, many rights, and you own them all if you created the work.
I won't get into defining all the various rights inherent in a created work. I'll just give one example. My recent contract with Romantic4Ever.com for them to publish The Trouble With Love as a serial novel involved Internet Publishing Rights. All other rights are retained by me. I licensed the rights to that novel to them for a period of seven years.
Contracts are written because a coyright is a legal asset. They always specify which rights you are selling and the time period for which you sell them.
So, if you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write something original, you are the copyright owner.
Registering a copyright means you've paid a fee to have your copyright legally registered by the authorized governmental body. In our country, that's the U. S. Copyright Office which I've linked in case you want to go there and file a copyright registration.
Some people think that only amateurs, in some paranoid frenzy of fearing their work will be stolen, register copyright. Wrong! By no means is registering a copyright an amateurish thing to do. It is the legally responsible thing to do and is the mark of a professional. So why doesn't everyone do it? The expense involved. For one book, filed online, $35.00 isn't much. For a dozen books, it adds up.
You see, back in the old days, publishers wrote it into their contracts that they would register the author's copyright. They paid the fee. Then, in the late 1990s, many traditional publishers ceased doing this as a cost reduction effort.
My first contract was written like that, and the publisher provided the certificate of registration to me. Then contracts began stating that registration of copyright was the author's responsibility. Since so many people are unaware of the difference as well as the importance of doing so, copyright registration fell by the wayside.
For a period of a few years, Harlequin stopped registering copyright. They started again only after a very public outcry from Romance Writers of America called attention to the issue.
Why register copyright? If you ever wish to sue for copyright infringement, you must have it registered. If you don't, then the burden of proof could become difficult plus the damages that can be awarded are substantially reduced. Actually, if you had to sue, one of the first things an intellectual rights attorney will want to see is the copyright registration.
For more on the copyright issues, visit my friend Jonathan Bailey's Plagiarism Today blog.
Educate yourself about the business standards if you want to be a professional writer.