Copyrights are a form of protection provided by laws to authors over every form and expression of their works for a period of time. It confers the author with the “right to copy”, which in actual sense means the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works based upon the work, to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, by transfer of ownership, by rental, lease, or lending; to perform the work publicly, and to display the work publicly. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright.
Copyrighting laws were enacted to encourage a creative culture and ensure economic compensation to the author. Copyrighting originated in the early days of the printing press, when there was indiscriminate copying and distribution of printing works, what we call piracy these days. So the governments of those days came up with laws that ensured the rights of authors over their works for a fixed period, after which the rights expired. However, the work has to be fixed in a tangible form, meaning, an actual copy of the work exists in a form that can be read directly or with the aid of a device. So if you have an idea about a novel or some literary work, you cannot claim copyright infringement unless you have your idea in print.
If you are author intending to make money from your efforts, it is important for you to copyright your works. It is quite possible for someone to obtain a copy of your work and attempt to profit from it financially by passing it as his own. This will lead to a loss of revenue for you. There are several ways on how to copyright your work. In some countries, copyrights are conferred automatically when the work is created and exists in a tangible form. So once your book is in a print form, you can file a lawsuit for copyright infringement when anyone violates any of the rights. However, some countries require that the copyright should be registered before you can file a lawsuit for an infringement. In this case, copies of your work are sent to the national copyright body for registration at a fee. Another less expensive way on how to copyright your work is to have it mailed back to you in a sealed envelope.
While the author owns an exclusive right to his works, there is the doctrine of fair use which permits the limited use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permissions from the author. This includes usage for the purpose of criticism, news reporting, teaching, or research. An author can transfer or license his rights over a material. In most publishing contracts, you may be required to transfer the full rights to the publisher.