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It's actually not even necessary to put the circle c designation on your work to copyright it. Rather, the circle C is merely an indication that you're claiming copyright status inthe work, not that it's actually copyrighted. Under US law, a copyrightable work is automatically copyrighted. So even though it is not registered with the US copyright office, once it is created it is under copyright protection. If you can show that you created it before they had the "idea" then you could have some legal recourse
You can copyright the work online here: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/notice.html
It's not that expensive.
But since the work is automatically copyright under US law, all you would need to do is show authorship before their use. These days, the "poor man's copyright" is as easy as sending it in an email format to yourself and a trusted friend.
The downside of this version of copyright is that, if it's not registered with the US copyright office, then your remedies are limited. The upside is that you don't have to pay the copyright fee every single time you want to prove authorship of something that you came up with.
So while you could show authorship before their alleged authorship (and thus "prove" your copyright), you could only get an injunction against them if you do not register it. If you register it, you would have additional remedies available should they use that without compensation or agreement from you.
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Are you able to refer me to the particular law or statute that defines the explanation that you provided for my records? Also, if I sell a work of art, do I maintain all legal rights to the work or does it become the property of the buyer of the piece? I would like to have the freedom to use the the image to make and sell prints, t-shirts, etc. I will not reproduce the work to be sold to another buyer as an original piece. It seems to me that selling prints and other items with the image on them will be to the benefit of the owner of the original piece as it could, if properly marketed, gain notoriety and make the original more valuable.
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You can find this in Title 17 of the US Code: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106
It's a bit complicated, because you have to go back and forth between section 106 and 101 (definitions), but you will find that works do not need to be registered to enjoy those protections.
Per the US Copyright Office: "In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”"
If you sell a work of art, typically you retain all rights. You're selling a reproduction of that piece, not the copyright to it.
Not even a license to reproduce that image.
You would retain the copyright if you were to sell images of your work.
To sell the copyright or the license (right that gives another to reproduce or use in a commercial manner, etc...) that requires a specific document that specifically gives that right to another. It would be difficult to inadvertently do that.
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