Copyright FAQ: Can a Copyright Owner Transfer His Rights?

As with any other property right, any or all of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights may be transferred. In fact, it is quite common when a copyright owner wants to commercially exploit the work covered by the copyright. Of course, there are certain rules and requirements that must be followed to ensure that a transfer is legally enforceable and protects the rights of the parties involved.

For instance, if a copyright owner seeks to transfer his exclusive rights, the transfer must be made in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or his duly authorized agent. Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement.

A copyright may also be conveyed by operation of law. For example, a copyright may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.

Types of Transfers

Transfers of copyright are normally made by contract, under the terms of which the copyright owner may restrict the terms of the transfer. For instance, the owner may limit the transfer to a specific period of time or certain type of media.

If a copyright owner transfers all of his rights unconditionally, it is generally termed an “assignment.” When only some of the rights associated with the copyright are transferred, it is referred to as a “license.”

An exclusive license is created when the transferred rights can be exercised only by the owner of the license, and no one else—including the person who granted the license. If the license allows others to exercise the same rights being transferred in the license, the license is deemed non-exclusive.

Recording a Transfer

Although recordation is not required to create a valid transfer between the parties, transfers may be recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office. In fact, it is often advisable. Recordation offers certain legal advantages and may be required to validate the transfer as against third parties.

How I Can Help

Of course, this post provides only a broad overview of the copyright transfer process. If you are seeking to transfer your rights, it is advisable to consult with an experienced intellectual property attorney.


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