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Assigning or licensing a copyright

Unlike patents, copyrights automatically arise once original work has been produced. Copyrights are valid for the entire lifetime of the creator of the work(s) and 50 years after the creator’s death.

Copyrighted materials are works of literature, music, drama or other artistic works. For example an original painting will be considered copyrighted.

A copyright gives you the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform an original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work. The person who created the work is usually the copyright owner. Of course, exceptions to copyright ownership exist, such as if a work has been created for an employer for whom the employee works. Then, unless an agreement is in place saying otherwise, the work will usually belong to the employer.

It’s a very good idea to register copyrighted work to ensure another person doesn’t claim credit, as it may be hard to prove that the original creator produced the work.

There are several choices about what can be done with a copyright once it has arisen. You can use it for your own exclusive use, publish it, broadcast it, or publicize it in other ways.

Assigning a copyright

An assignment happens when you transfer the ownership of your copyright to another party. You can also transfer partial or full ownership. The assignment can last for the entire term of the copyright or only for some of the term.

Licensing a copyright

When you are licensing a copyright, you retain ownership of it. What the license allows the other party to is to use the copyright under conditions determined by a contract between the licensing parties.

Whether your license or assign your copyrighted material, the fact that you are assigning or licensing it must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner.

Registering the assignment or license    

The assignment or license can be, and usually is, registered with the Copyright Office. You usually have to file an original agreement – or photocopy of the original contract – with the office, and pay a fee for each of the works that is being assigned or licensed.

The registration can be filed either online or by fax or mail.

Alternative licensing options

There is an alternative licensing options, such as Creative Commons. It’s a non-for-profit which looks at providing alternatives to traditional licensing methods which fall between copyright ownership and the public domain.

If you want to assign or license your copyright you should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Transfer ownership of Copyright

Rights & Responsibilities of creators, authors & researchers