Contract copyright laws protect your creative work. This gives you the authority to decide who gets to use your work and how they get to use your work.

The person who owns copyrighted material (and who lets someone else or a business use that copyrighted material) holds a copyright license agreement. This type of agreement is used when the material is reprinted or distributed, and it determines whether the copyrighted material is only used for a specific amount of time or if it's left up for an indefinite period of time.

Payment Terms for Using Copyrighted Material

In exchange for using copyrighted material, the creator usually gets royalties or outright payment based on the usage of that material. A copyright license agreement lists:

  • How the copyrighted work will be used.
  • Where the copyrighted work will be displayed.
  • The time period for which the copyrighted work may be used.

This agreement is referred to as a license because it isn't permanent. The right to use copyrighted material is offered on a temporary, limited basis.

The Difference Between a Copyright License Agreement and an Assignment

A copyright license agreement isn't the same thing as a copyright assignment. A copyright assignment transfers permanent ownership of intellectual property to the person buying it. With a copyright license, the creator still owns the copyright to the property; they're just letting another party use it. For example, if someone wants to use a copyrighted trademark or a product that's owned by another person in a film production, they would have to get permission from the copyright holder with a copyright license contract.

Exclusive License

If transferring the exclusive license for part or all copyright protected rights, it must be done in writing and must be signed by the copyright holder or the copyright owners authorized agent. If transferring the exclusive license for part or all copyright protected rights, it must be done in writing and must be signed by the copyright holder or the copyright owners authorized agent.

Written authorization must contain information that describes the rights that are being conveyed. If you're a copyright holder, you should pay special attention to holding onto any rights you want to retain from your work. This should especially include protections from the exploitation of your work in regard to new media forms and new forms of technology that haven't even been developed yet.

Filing With the U.S. Copyright Office

No special forms are required for transferring your rights through the U.S. Copyright Office. The copyright office does record copyright ownership transfers under the power of copyright law. It isn't actually required to record these transfers with the U.S. copyright office, but recording them does provide both parties with some legal advantages. The recorded documents might also be required if you need proof of the transfer.

Non-Exclusive License and "By Operation of Law"

While it can be in writing, it isn't required for a non-exclusive license transfer to be in written form. When granting a non-exclusive license, you can do it in oral form or even inferred from your behavior.

Copyright transfers "by operation of law" are also not required to be in written form. Copyrights are conveyed by operation of law under circumstances, like when something has been bequeathed in a will, when it's passed under the laws of intestate succession, and when the court seizes it in bankruptcy proceedings to pay a debt.

Copyright as Personal Property

Copyright exists as a form of personal property. A variety of state laws and regulations govern:

  • A copyright's ownership.
  • The way it passes through inheritance.
  • The transfer of a copyright as personal property.
  • The specific terms used in contracts regarding the copyright.
  • How business is conducted around the copyright.

Implied License

An implied license arrangement of a non-exclusive agreement doesn't have to be recorded in written form to be valid. The fact that non-exclusive licenses don't have to be written and that they can be implied based on your behavior is the reason they're called implied licenses. The user of the copyrighted material gets some rights in regards to its use, but those rights only extend as far as the copyright holder would have agreed to let them be used if the contract had been negotiated.

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