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Colleen, the Copyright Detective, has gone back to check the copyright laws.

What do you have to do to protect your own work in the United States?

The only thing you really need to do to establish copyright is to put the work in physical form write it down, create it on a computer, paint it, sculpt it, etc.

Remember, your copyright covers the physical expression of the idea, not the idea itself.

You can copyright this: A fiddle-playing consulting detective, helped by his physician sidekick, solves the mysterious death of a nobleman said to have been killed by a family curse involving a ferocious ghostly hound. (Arthur Conan Doyle: Hound of the Baskervilles.)

But you can't copyright this idea: A detective tries to solve a murder mystery.

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updated: 8/4/11