Copyright FAQ: Who Has the Rights to a Collective Work?

Special copyright rules apply to collective works under the Copyright Act.  A collective work is defined as a work “in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.” Common examples include magazines, academic journals, anthologies, and encyclopedias.  The articles, columns, or short stories that make up the collective work are referred to as “contributions to a collective work.”

The copyright in a collective work covers only the collective work as a whole (i.e., the order and organization of the entire magazine or encyclopedia). Thus, the copyright in each individual contribution is distinct from the larger work.

In the absence of an express transfer from the author of the individual article, the copyright owner in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the right to use the contribution in the collective work and in subsequent revisions and later editions of the collective work. However, in many cases, authors submitting articles to magazines and journals must agree that they will not retain a copyright to the work once it is published as part of a collective work.

For individual advice on the copyrights to a contribution to a collective work, please contact me.

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