Copyright consists of authorship, human creations that fix an idea in a specific expression. It is the expression rather than the idea that is protected. In order to qualify for copyright protection, the expression must not be a useful item. (Useful items are covered by patent law instead.) The following elements must be met for a work of authorship to be eligible for copyright:
Copyright is created immediately as soon as the work is created and fixed. Unlike older copyright statutes, the 1976 Copyright Act does not require the notice "Copyright," the © "C in a circle," or registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, you do have to have a registration in order to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
Copyright material can be found in the Government Documents Area of the ground floor of Helm Library. Information Circulars from the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress are shelved at LC 3.4/2. Copyright law is contained in Title 17 of the United States Code on the web or the printed version of Title 17 of the United States Code Annotated in the Law Collection. Selected forms, that may be photocopied, are located at the Reference Desk, first floor of Helm Library. If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer you may also print copyright application forms from the Copyright Office Home Page.
. Mark Radcliffe, Copyright Law, Findlaw Professionals, available at http://corporate.findlaw.com/intellectual-property/copyright-law.html. Excerpted from Mark Radcliffe, The Multimedia Law and Business Handbook (Ladera Press 1999).
 17 United States Code Section 102.
Alternatives to Copyright
There is a myth that a so-called "poor man's copyright" exists where you can mail yourself a copy of your work (and not open the envelope) to establish that you own it. This is absolutely false. The only way to obtain a copyright -- and be able to file a lawsuit -- is to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. While you are not eligible for statutory damages if the work is registered after infringement, you can still register and then sue at any time.