This article is from the misc.writing Writing FAQ, by Wendy Chatley Green firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
The following answer pertains only to copyrights obtained in
the USA. Elsewhere, YMMV (your mileage may vary.) The
people who suggested the sites listed and the information
given may not be lawyers so expect this to be cheaper than
legal advice but possibly not as good.
With that having been said,
You have an implicit copyright on any original
creative work that you produce. This copyright is good as
soon as you write the words onto paper.
You do not need to explicitly copyright fiction that
you submit to professional publications. Reports of editors
"ripping off" stories for their own uses are apocryphal.
Sending yourself your story via the postal service
is not a way to prove that the story was written at a
specific time. Postmarks can and have been falsified. This
won't stand up in court. This also applies for
notarization, or any other method of timestamping a
Since this is one of the most frequently asked
questions, I will repeat the answer--sending yourself the
manuscript and keeping that copy unopened will not protect
any rights--this is now a myth.
There are discussions of copyrights at:
Bill Lovell, JD's Cerebalaw site:
Ivan Hoffman, JD's site:
The Librarians' Index to the Internet at UC Berkeley:
Dick Harper's All Arts Council:
or check with an attorney who knows copyright and patent