For all artists in the commercial and fine arts, get used to copyrighting all your artwork as soon as it is created. For published work, do it even before it gets published so that you can group it with others that are unpublished and get a copyright for one fee or less money than if done individually after the work has been published. Published work means any public distribution of the work in print form or sold on the web. The advantage to early registration of copyright is that if you should ever have a work infringed upon - where your rights were violated - you will be able to sue for statutory and punitive damages as well - that means your lawyer's fees will be covered. Warning: the longer you wait, the less $$$ you can probably recover should there be an infringement. It just gets more difficult and there becomes a grey area where you may not even be able to get any money from the case or there will be no case. An author has up to 90 days to register a work for full coverage. For example, art lawyers have noted cases where $150,000 was recovered. This is money that you get from certain infringements and you are no longer do any extra work on the art! In cases where punitive damages cannot be sought, i.e. a late copyright registration, lawyer's fees can go up to $50,000, so watch out! Copyright right away or risk losing your rights. Register online using eco or download paper forms at http://www.copyright.gov
Yes it is true that as soon as you create a work of art, you are the copyright owner, however without a registration, none of that stands in court and major companies can take your art and do as they wish. Most published works are those that are printed in magazines, books, marketing materials, websites, those used in licensing (a licensee will not print work that is not copyrighted), etc. Single fee for each work or collection. Any other work unpublished like personal work that you think you may put in public domain someday should also be copyrighted in a group registration. One fee for the group - it doesn't matter when they were created as long as they have some relation to each other. When titling works, it may be helpful to use quotes in a title. That will allow you to change the name of the
work(s) without registering a change of title form and paying more in the future should you decide to change it!
To file a basic claim, the easiest and fastest way is to do so online and submit digital images at the website noted with this post. It costs $35 versus the $50 if you do it by paper and snail mail with form CO and a barcode. The old way used to use form VA, that is no longer the norm. It costs more for form VA anyway if you do use it now.
Always managing to keep the original copyright and by selling limited rights in a contractual agreement to your work for publication is the bread and butter of an artist's livelihood. A single work of art can generate a million dollars or more from repeated usage, so don't you think a mere $35 investment would be worth it?