Copyright is protection of original work that results in a “tangible” creation.
You are a copyright owner.
If you have ever submitted a paper for school, created a video, posted an image or tweet, drawn a picture, written and performed a song, you already own the copyright on those creations.
No one is allowed to use, distribute, or reproduce your copyrighted work without your explicit permission.
Your right to own your intellectual and creative work is protected by the United States Constitution, which empowers Congress "To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8.
This protection is further laid out in the Title 17 of the United States Code. Chapter 1, Section 102 states that copyright protects "original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works fixed in any tangible means of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated directly or with the aid of a machine or device." Excerpt from U.S. Copyright Act, U.S. Code, Title 17, Chapter 1, Sect. 102.
Copyright, public domain, and fair use are complicated topics. Our ideas about intellectual property and protections are constantly shifting as digital media makes content easier to share.
This overview provides some of the basics of copyright, but there are many situations and environments that complicate the topic. Please consult with a copyright expert—or even a lawyer—if you are confused.