Originally Posted by HarryT
You automatically hold a copyright the instant that you create your work.
In the UK the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 covers song lyrics, manuscripts, manuals, computer programs, commercial documents, leaflets, newsletters and articles plus a lot more, but this is the part we are talking about.
The Act says:
Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates a work. To qualify, a work should be regarded as original, and exhibit a degree of labour, skill or judgement.
Interpretation is related to the independent creation rather than the idea behind the creation. For example, your idea for a book would not itself be protected, but the actual content of a book you write would be. In other words, someone else is still entitled to write their own book around the same idea, provided they do not directly copy or adapt yours to do so.
Names, titles, short phrases and colours are not generally considered unique or substantial enough to be covered, but a creation, such as a logo, that combines these elements may be.
In short, work that expresses an idea may be protected, but not the idea behind it.
The duration of copyright for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies.
If the author is unknown, copyright will last for 70 years from end of the calendar year in which the work was created, although if it is made available to the public during that time, (by publication, authorised performance, broadcast, exhibition, etc.), then the duration will be 70 years from the end of the year that the work was first made available.
International conventions give protection in most countries, subject to national laws.
In the United Kingdom, it is generally accepted that any work is essentially copyrighted as soon as it leaves the creator's mind and is placed on paper, computer, or other medium. The United States offers similar protection for writers and their original works. In neither case does the individual have to register his or her pieces with the government, though it is possible to do so in America through the U.S. Copyright Office.
However, this all means nothing without the proof that you are in fact the author or the work
As a professional writer, you can only protect your works so far; after all, there are con artists everywhere. However, one thing you should always do when working with an agent, editor, or publisher is settle upon some kind of written contract before sending him or her your entire works. This could be as simple as an emailed, faxed, or sent letter of agreement or as complicated as a dozen-page form that must be signed in triplicate. Without this diligence, your writings could be "lifted" and it would be difficult (and perhaps too costly) for you to take action.