Legal Ramifications – Copyright IV – Ownership and Transfer

OK, remember that I told you that your copyright to your work exists as soon as it is in a fixed tangible form – that is, in a form that someone else can read it.  Now, who owns that copyright?  

With three important exceptions, a copyright is owned by the person who creates the work – in a blog, that’s you.  Under copyright law you are called the “author.”

The three exceptions are:

1. If a work is created by an employee in the course of employment, then the work is called a “work made for hire” and copyright is owned by the employer.  Be careful what you write and what you do on your blog during the time you are at work, using your company computer.  Could raise some problems.

2. If the work is commissioned (created by an author working as an independent contractor) and the parties sign a written work  made  for hire agreement and as long as the work falls within one of the statutory categories of commissioned works that can qualify as works made for hire, such as a contribution to a collective work.

3. If the author sells (“assigns”) the copyright to someone else, the purchasing person or business owns the copyright.

Copyright actually encompasses a bundle of separate exclusive rights, all of which can be sold or licensed separately.  When all copyright rights are transferred unconditionally, the agreement is generally called an “assignment.”  when only some of the rights are transferred, it is known as a “license.”  An exclusive license exists when the right being licensed can only be exercised by one party and no one else.  If the license allows others to exercise the same rights, is is known as a “non-exclusive” license.

Transfers of copyright should always be in writing for everyone’s protection. The US Copyright Office allows buyers of exclusive and non-exclusive rights to record these interests in the Office.  this helps to protect the buyers in case the original copyright owner later decides to transfer the same rights to another party.

The US Copyright Office can be found at http://www.copyright.gov