Definition[edit | edit source]

Transfer of copyright ownership is:

an assignment, mortgage, exclusive license, or any other conveyance, alienation, or hypothecation of a copyright or of any of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, whether or not it is limited in time or place of effect, but not including a nonexclusive license.[1]

Overview[edit | edit source]

A transfer of rights must be in writing and must be signed by the transferor.[2] A transfer of copyright ownership may be limited in time or in place, but it must be an exclusive transfer of whatever right or rights are involved (i.e., nonexclusive licenses are not considered transfers of ownership).[3] Any of the exclusive rights in the work may be separately transferred and owned, and the owner of a particular right is considered the "copyright owner" with respect to that right.[4]

In the case of any copyrighted work other than a "work made for hire," all transfers of copyright ownership (as well as all nonexclusive licenses) executed by the author of the work may be terminated by the author 35 years after the transfer.[5] This right to terminate, intended to protect authors, cannot be waived by contract or other agreement.[6] However, termination is not automatic; an author must assert his or her termination rights and comply with certain statutory requirements to regain copyright ownership.[7]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 17 U.S.C. § 101.
  2. 17 U.S.C. §204(a). An exclusive license is considered a transfer of copyright and, therefore, must be in writing. Although an exclusive license may be limited in time, place or scope, it nevertheless extends the benefits of copyright ownership with respect to the rights granted to the licensee for the duration of the license. The rights of a copyright owner may also be licensed on a nonexclusive basis to one or more licensees. The Copyright Act does not require nonexclusive licenses to be in writing.
  3. Id.
  4. See id. §201(d)(2); id. §101 (definition of "copyright owner").
  5. See 17 U.S.C. §203(a); see also id. §304(c).
  6. Id. §203(a)(5) ("[t]ermination of the grant may be effected notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, including an agreement to make a will or to make any future grant").
  7. See 17 U.S.C. §203(a).
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