Most of the time, the creator of a work is the one who registers the copyright and officially owns the work. While this is typical, there are some situations when copyright ownership is not granted to the creator. If you are a content creator, you should understand whether or not you will have the rights to your material. Even if you are confident that you will officially hold your copyright, you should have a firm understanding of copyright ownership so you know what your rights are. The following is just a short guide to copyright ownership. Any in-depth questions you have should be answered by a copyright attorney.
Copyright Ownership Complications
There are essentially three reasons creators of a work will not be given ownership of their material. These are that they were hired to create the work, they were not the sole creator, or they chose to transfer the rights.
- Hired to create work – The first and most common reason creators would not hold copyright ownership is that they were hired to create the material. This can either take the form of a regular employee creator or an independent contractor. Either way, the terms of ownership should be perfectly clear among both the hiring and hired party before the work is completed. Additionally, the employee’s job must directly relate to the creation of the work.
- Joint copyright ownership – If more than one person was involved with the creation of the work, multiple people can claim ownership. For this to be the case, all parties’ contributions must be essential to the finished product, and everyone must receive equal portions of the income. Even if multiple people worked on a material, separate agreements can be reached for a single individual to solely own it.
- Transfer of rights – Finally, creators of a copyright who have ownership can always choose to transfer their rights to someone else. Sometimes this is in exchange for money, essentially selling the material, and other times it is done for nothing in return.
There are many reasons the owner of a copyright may choose to transfer the rights. Most often, if ownership is transferred, the owner is selling the rights to the work. Marketing may also demand the rights to change hands. The owner of a copyright is given many different rights. If the owners choose to transfer the copyright, they may decide exactly which rights are transferred. It is possible to sell only certain rights, keep others, or impose other limitations. If all rights are transferred with no limitations, it is referred to as an assignment. If limits are placed, it is considered a license. Finally, the courts can order the transfer of copyright ownership, such as in the event of the owner’s death or divorce of joint owners.
Copyright Ownership Rights
The last aspect of copyright ownership that you should understand is the exact rights that holding ownership grants. Essentially, these are the only benefits of owning a creative work:
- The right to sell the copyrighted material. Only the owner is allowed to directly profit from the work.
- The rights to transfer, assign, or license the copyrighted material. The copyright owner also has the right to distribute and withhold specific rights when changing the ownership of a copyright.
- The right to reproduce the copyrighted material.
- The right to develop sequels, spin-offs, or otherwise derivative works of the copyrighted material.
- The rights to publically perform, display, or play the copyrighted material.
As you can tell, there are numerous benefits to owning a copyrighted material, so be sure you completely understand what rights you will hold if you are creating something for another party, having a copyright transferred to you, or otherwise are confused about ownership. Consulting a copyright attorney is always a good idea.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.