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What is a Transfer of Copyright?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated: Feb 27, 2024

A transfer of copyright ownership is the act of the creator or owner of a work giving up some or all rights to it and giving them to another person or entity. The transfer often happens in a contract, in assignment form, or in a will. In many cases, a copyright transfer is included in a personal service agreement, and the motivating factor for entering into those agreements is often to obtain copyright ownership. The transferee, or assignee, the subsequent owners of the copyrights, can submit documentation to public copyright registration offices after the transfer takes place. Any registered copyright is often updated to reflect the transfer and to put the public on notice of the person or entity that now owns rights to distribute or reproduce the copyrighted material.

Owners of copyrights can transfer rights to others. A transfer of copyright can result in compensation to creators, and some creators make a living creating and transferring copyrights. For example, a song writer who is not operating under a Work Made for Hire agreement with a record label may pitch his or her songs to artists and companies. If a company or artist is interested in the song, then the songwriter or the interested parties will have to execute a written document to make the transfer.

An assignment form can be used to transfer some or all copyrights to an assignee, the person who is the recipient of those rights. For example, if an artist produced a music CD and a distribution company wants to distribute it, the company may ask the artist to sign an assignment form for the transfer of copyright. Assignment language is also often included in more lengthy documents such as a distribution or recording agreement. The document is proof that the new owner of the copyright is the assignee and that the assignor, the original copyright holder, no longer has exclusive rights to distribute or license the work that is the subject of the assignment.

Licenses are not a transfer of copyright, because the person who grants the license retains ownership of the copyright. Creators can grant non-exclusive and exclusive licenses, which are agreements that give permission to the licensee to use the work. If the license is non-exclusive, the creator can give the same rights in the work to someone else without a conflict in copyright ownership. Creators can use either a transfer or license to make money off their works.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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