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How Is Ownership of a Copyright Transferred?

Photo of the Ownership of a Copyright

The owner of a copyright is entitled to certain exclusive rights under the Copyright Act of 1976. These rights include the right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivate works based upon the copyrighted work, to distribute copies of the copyright work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, to perform the copyrighted work publicly through live means or through audio transmission and to display the copyrighted work publicly.

When the owner of a copyright transfers ownership, they have the option of transferring either the entire copyright interest, including all of the rights listed above, or only selected rights. In order to be considered a transfer legally, the delegation of rights must be fully exclusive to one licensee. If the same rights are granted to multiple people, it results in a nonexclusive license. A nonexclusive license is not legally considered a transfer, and the holder of a nonexclusive license does not have the same rights as an exclusive copyright holder, such as the right to sue for copyright infringement. It is for this reason that it is important to ensure that any copyright transfer exclusively transfers any rights that are part of the agreement.

A copyright can be transferred through any means of conveyance, whether it be sold for cash, traded, wagered or left in a will. While the transfer of a copyright through bankruptcy or mortgage foreclosure used to be classified as an “involuntary transfer”, that is no longer the case. It has been ruled that filing for bankruptcy or using the copyright as collateral for a mortgage are voluntary decisions. 

Under section 204 of the Copyright Act, ownership of any exclusive rights to a copyright can be transferred only by a writing expressly describing the transfer and signed by the copyright owner or authorized agent. The writing requirement ensures that the owner of the copyright will not inadvertently transfer the rights to it, and it also gives both parties the opportunity to be specific about exactly what rights are being transferred and what the price of transfer is. Once ownership of a copyright has been transferred, the new owner is free to transfer ownership in the same manner unless a contract stipulates otherwise.

If you are the owner of a copyright who wishes to make a legal transfer, or you are in the process of acquiring a copyright through transfer, then you should consult a Los Angeles intellectual property attorney to guide you through the process. He or she will ensure that you are receiving either the copyright rights you agreed to or the proper compensation for your copyright transfer.

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