Copyrights are a type of personal property right that grants the copyright owner control over the use and transfer of the copyrighted work. Copyrights are important because they allow an author to create original works without the fear of later having it stolen by another author. Although registering your copyright typically makes it much easier to defend your copyrighted works, it is not necessary. The work is considered to be protected by copyright upon its creation. There are instances where an author may want to transfer some or all of his or her copyright to another person or entity.
A copyright owner's exclusive rights (either in whole or in part) can be transferred to another party, but it must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner to be considered valid. An authorized agent of the copyright owner (such as an attorney or business associate) can also sign the writing. If the owner is transferring nonexclusive rights, however, a written agreement is not required.
How to Transfer a Copyright
The U.S. Copyright Office doesn't have forms for transfers of copyrights, so these transfers are normally made via contracts. The Copyright Office does, however, record transfers of copyrights. While recording the transfers with the Copyright Office is not required for a valid transfer, it can provide certain legal advantages and may also be required in order to validate a transfer against a third party.
There are basically two ways to figure out if a copyright has been transferred from one person to another. One way is to review the copyright registration certificate issued by the Copyright Office. The second way is to research and find a transfer or assignment agreement.
Termination of Transfers
An author who has transferred a copyright to another party can reacquire their rights after a certain number of years through the process of terminating a transfer. The process of terminating and reclaiming a copyright is a complex process, and the rules depend on when the work was initially published. Very generally, a termination of transfer can occur between 28 years and 56 years after first publication of the copyrighted work. These terminations are filed with the Copyright Office, and can therefore be found in the Copyright Office records.
Under previous law, the copyright of a work would revert back to the author if a renewal claim was registered in the 28th year of the original term of the copyright. In the event that the author was no longer alive, the copyright would go to the author's beneficiaries. Current law doesn't require a renewal claim, unless the work was already in the initial term of protection when the law changed. The current law in effect allows termination of transfer under certain conditions, 35 years after the copyright transfer was granted.
Getting Legal Help
Copyrights can be a complicated area of law. If you're interested in having a copyright transferred to you, it's important to make sure it is a valid legal transfer. For this reason, it may be a good idea to contact an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area to help you with a transfer of copyright agreement.