As you know, copyright law in the U.S. protects a bundle of exclusive economic rights. These include the right to reproduce the work, the right to prepare derivative works, the right to distribute copies of the work to the public, the right to perform the work publicly, and the right to display the work. Each of these economic rights are generally owned by the author of the work. But the U.S. Copyright Act provides that the different rights can be assigned to others. In fact, the author can even subdivide the rights to others. As an example, the author of a book owns the right to make derivative works. He could assign a part of this right, such as the right to adapt the book into a movie, to one person, and he could assign another part of that right, such as the right to publish a foreign language translation of of the book to another person.
So how does a copyright owner transfer his rights? All transfers of exclusive copyright ownership must be in writing. Note, however, if the transfer is merely permission to do something protected by copyright law, but not an exclusive right, it is just a license, and may be oral.
So does a work of art have to have a notice of copyright in order to be protected by United States copyright law? We'll talk about that next time. If you have any questions about copyright law, email us or post them on the blog. The email is JDellinger@mainspringlaw.com. We also have a free pamphlet discussing copyright law as it effects small businesses and individuals.