How Do I Get a Copyright and What Does It Do?
What is a copyright?We’ve all seen the © symbol somewhere. Because, they’re everywhere: in books, magazines, on pictures, and at the bottom of this site. But what exactly is a copyright? Well, actually, our copyright laws are rooted in none other but our Constitution. There, Congress is granted the power, “[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” . But what does that mean exactly? The purpose of this article is to answer some basic questions about copyright law, including what it protects and how.
What does copyright protect?
The purpose of copyright law is to protect original works of authorship. If your work is literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic or sculptural, then it’s probably protected by copyright. Here’s the actual text from the copyright act:
Though most copyrightable works fall into one of these categories, the list is not exhaustive, and works that may not fit into one of these categories may still be able to obtain a copyright.
What doesn’t copyright protect?
Copyright only protects “original works of authorship,” which means that it only protects works that are authored, not facts or discoveries. The work has to owe its origin to a human author (sorry elephants).
Further, only works “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” may be protected by copyright. Meaning that copyright won’t protect ideas or concepts that only exist in your mind. Copyright only protects authored works that “can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” This means that in order to have copyright protection in your story, painting, or song, you have to either write it, paint it, or record it in some “tangible medium of expression” from which others can perceive it. It also means that a painter could never copyright the idea of a flower, only his or her particular expression of a flower found in the painting.  Capeesh?
How do I get a copyright?
Copyright protection begins at the moment of fixation of your work. That’s right, no copyright registration is needed in order for your work to be protected. However, in order to sue someone for copyright infringement, federal courts require that you then register the work with the Copyright Office. Copyright registration also comes with its perks, including statutory damages and the ability to get attorney’s fees in the event of a lawsuit. 
Copyright registration is only $35 and can be done quickly and easily online at: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/
What rights does a copyright secure for me?
The copyright act (Section 106) gives you the exclusive rights to do or authorize any of the following:
(1) To Reproduce the Work
This is the right to make copies, in whatever form they may come. Without a license, no one has the right to make copies of your story, record a cover of your song, or take a picture of your painting. This is a major right. It gives artists and authors control over how many copies of their work is out there.
However, a big exception is in musical works that are reproduced in a “phonorecord” (i.e. a tape, CD, MP3, etc.). A “cover song” is an example of a copy of a musical work that is recorded onto a “phonorecord.” Anyone making a cover still needs a license to use the musical work, but they are compulsory, meaning that the author has to give permission in exchange for a fee set by law. 
(2) To Prepare Derivatives
A derivative work is a work that is based upon one or more preexisting works. For example, creating a remix of a song, or making a movie based off a book, would be a derivative work. You have the ability to give movie rights, play rights, remixing rights, etc., to anyone who wants to create a work that is based on yours. And conversely, no one may make a work based on yours without first obtaining a license from you.
(3) To Distribute Copies of the Work
You control the right to distribute your work. Generally speaking, this means that no one may sell, rent, lend, or otherwise distribute copies of your work without your permission. However, under the First Sale doctrine, if you lawfully own a copy of a work, you’re allowed to sell it or give it away. 
(4) To Perform the Work Publicly
If people like your song, they can learn how to perform it, but they can’t perform it for the public without your permission. A public performance includes performing in “a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” This also includes posting on YouTube, twitter, and other social medias. The right of public performance extends to essentially almost all copyrighted works that can be “performed.” The copyright act states that the right extends to:
Note that, though this list includes musical works, it does not include “sound recordings.” And the copyright act explicitly states:
Sorry, sound recordings. But as you’ll see below (in clause 6), Congress has afforded sound recordings at least some protection in public performance.
(5) To Display the Work Publicly
This is essentially a very similar right to the right of public performance, but is afforded to works such as paintings and sculptures, which can be put on display publicly, although, specific exceptions are given to the lawful owners of the works. 
(6) To Digitally Perform
Coming back now to sound recordings, though they don’t include the right of public performance, in 1995, Congress afforded copyright owners the right of digital performance. Meaning that you must get a license to digitally stream a sound recording. However, some of these licenses are compulsory (depending on their interactivity), and thus, must be granted in exchange for a non-negotiated fee.  .
But what happens when two or more people co-author a work, who owns the copyright?
Both do. When two or more people co-author a work, they are said to be joint owners of the copyright. So what happens to your “exclusive” rights? Well, you share them. A co-author has the right to issue any non-exclusive license. Meaning that an author may issue a license so long as it doesn’t restrict his co-author’s ability to license. But issuing an exclusive license requires the consent of all the joint authors, no matter how small a part they played. So be careful, and if you want to read more about joint-authorship and when it could affect you, check out my other article: Joint Authorship—How Safe is Your Art?. Till next time, take care of yourselves and your art.
 Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution  17 U.S.C. § 102  17 U.S.C. § 412  17 U.S.C. § 115  17 U.S.C. § 109  Id.  17 U.S.C. §§ 106, 114-115  Wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Performance_Right_in_Sound_Recordings_Act