As the creator of an original image or artwork you are automatically granted copyright, which is a set of exclusive rights granted to you. It includes the sole right for you to make, reproduce, distribute and adapt the work you have created. Images are protected for the lifetime of the creator, e.g. the artist or photographer, and for 50 years after his or her death.
Copyright belongs to you, the artist and is separate from ownership of an original artwork. If the work is un-commissioned, then the artist owns the copyright automatically even if the original is sold. Only the copyright holder has the right to reproduce the work.
The artist doesn’t have to put the little c in a circle to own the copyright. They own the copyright whether the symbol is there or not. The Copyright Council recommend that it is used though as it is like a small sign that says “I know I have the copyright here”
For a work to be protected by copyright it must be “a product of the creator exercising independent skill and labour” (thanks NZ Copyright Council).