05 Nov Transferring copyrights
As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, “Copyright Laws,” copyrights give their owners a bundle of exclusive rights — to copy, distribute and perform. Owners can voluntarily transfer any or all of these rights in a variety of unique ways, including by wholly transferring copyrights all together, breaking the bundle of rights up and transferring them individually, or even further dividing them by, for instance, permitting any of the rights to be exercised at certain times and locations.
An example would be a publisher who enters into an agreement allowing a distributor to sell a magazine only in Portland for the month of December. Owners can also transfer their rights on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis, giving even more flexibility to parties in negotiating over who gets what.
A common method of transferring rights is through licensing, typically for some sort of compensation. Licensing is another way of saying that owners give away some, but not all, of their rights. In legal terminology, they are either giving non-exclusive or less than all of their exclusive rights. A good example is a software license, which allows many people to use the same software on a non-exclusive basis. The software can be licensed over and over again to lots of users, generating compensation from each user. An extreme example is open source software, which allows web sites like this one to even be possible.
Despite the flexibility and variety of ways in which rights can be transferred, there are legal boundaries that businesses need to be aware of, such as the requirement that the transfer of exclusive rights must be in writing to be enforceable. This is likely the case because owners of exclusive rights are considered to be copyright owners under federal law, entitling them to full protection and remedies under federal law, including the right to register a copyright claim and sue for infringement. Most businesses use written agreements anyway, but this is certainly a requirement not to overlook.
Some other provisions to consider when drafting transfer agreements are precise descriptions of the right being transferred; the duration and scope of the transfer in terms of time and geography; whether the right can be re-transferred (through sub-licensing, for instance); payment terms; and any warranties or indemnification provisions. Transfer agreements can, for good reason, get extremely detailed and often times are only limited by the business needs and ingenuity of the companies involved.
If you are interested in transferring copyrights, or are interested in learning more about the issues discussed in this article – especially if your business is in or around Portland, Oregon – please contact us.
Author: Andrew Harris
Learn More About Transferring Copyrights
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