The exclusive right of printing, publishing and selling an original work of authorship is a copyright, and copyright is a personal property right. As such, it can be subject to laws that govern or restrict ownership, transfer or inheritance of personal property.
Under the Copyright Act, the author has the exclusive right to make copies and sell his or her work as well as the right to translate, dramatize, perform, represent or make records of it. Typically, an author transfers his or her copyright (all or only part of it) to a publisher for a royalty payment, usually by either an assignment or a license.
The moment you create your work and put in a tangible form, a copyright exists. You have a right to sue anyone who attempts to publish your work without your consent. Registering for a copyright is purely voluntary, but to enforce your copyright, you need to register it. Information and forms concerning copyrights can be found at: www.copyright.gov.
SIDEBAR: Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner of the copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.
Works created in 1978 and later are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. The Library of Congress administers copyrights.
TIP: You can get information about copyrighting your material and search the Copyright Office's Web site for all copyright records since 1978.