According to the law, copyright is granted to authors upon expressing their ideas in a "tangible form", even if it is an unpublished manuscript; no registration is needed to become the legitimate copyright holder of your own work. As the author, you have the exclusive right to copy, distributed or perform your work, unless you give your permission to others to do so. In fact, in order to publish your article, all the publisher needs is your permission, yet standard publisher agreements transfer all your rights to the publisher. You don't have to accept it, as the owner of your own intellectual property.
We've created this Negotiating Guide to help you negotiate with your publisher and retain some of your rights. It takes you step by step through a typical negotiating process using clear, everyday language. Alternatively, you may want to attach an addendum that reserves rights essential to scholars in the university environment. This is a rider to the contract that is designed to ensure that the author, her colleagues, and her institution, are able to use and archive the scholarly work. The Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine can easily generate a customized addendum to meet your needs.
You may also choose to publish your article in an Open Access journal. Many Open Access journals are peer-reviewed and have excellent impact factors. They feature scholarly literature in electronic format, free of charge to the user and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. That means that users can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, as long as they "give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited," according to the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Your consent, as the author and copyright holder, is needed to publish your work in the public domain, but you retain the right to block the distribution of mangled or misattributed copies. This is how you can maintain control over your own work.
For more information, see the OA Publishing - Gold Library Guide
Another option is to archive your research in a disciplinary or intuitional digital repository. Such repositories are harvested by search engines such as Google or Ask and made freely accessible to potential readers. Authors may choose to put an un-refereed preprint into the archive, before they submit it to a peer-reviewed journal. If after submission the article is accepted, and the author retains the right to self-archive, then the refereed or revised postprint may be archived. But even if the publisher does not allow self-archiving, authors can still archive the "corrigenda" (an online preprint vs. the published version of the article).
For information about self archiving, see the OA Repositories - Green Library Guide.