Copyright Owner's Rights

What are the basic rights of a copyright owner?

The federal Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • to distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease or lending;
  • to perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic and choreographic works, pantomimes and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • to display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic and choreographic works, pantomimes and pictorial, graphic or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

In addition, certain authors of works of visual art have the rights of attribution and integrity.

Are copyrights transferable?

Yes, the owner of a copyright may transfer it. Like any other property, all or part of the rights in a work may be transferred by the owner to another. But the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights given or the owner's duly authorized agent. Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement.

A copyright may also be transferred by operation of law and may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.

Sidebar: Since a copyright is a personal property right, it is subject to the various state laws and regulations that govern the ownership, inheritance or transfer of personal property as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business. For information about relevant state laws on these, you may need to consult an attorney.

Transfers of copyright are normally made by contract. The law does provide for the recordation in the Copyright Office of transfers of copyright ownership. Although recordation is not required to make a valid transfer between the parties, it does provide certain legal advantages and may be required to validate the transfer as against third parties.

Does the Copyright Office have any forms for the transfer of copyrights?

There are no forms provided by the Copyright Office to make a copyright transfer. However, the Copyright Office does keep records of transfers if they are submitted to it.

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