Transferring a Copyright as a Songwriter

by Louis Kroeck Google

Transferring a copyright as a songwriter is no different from transferring a copyright in general. As the author of the song in question, you likely hold the copyright to your work. However, you will need to make sure that you are the valid copyright holder prior to transfer. After you transfer your work, you may record the transfer with the Copyright Office if you choose to do so.

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Determine Who Holds the Copyright

Before attempting to transfer your copyright, you need to determine who holds the copyright. If you co-wrote the song with another party, you will need that person's permission before attempting to transfer the copyright to your song. Additionally, if you were employed by someone to write the song, he or she is the rightful owner of the copyright, and you will not be permitted to a transfer the copyright, because it's not yours to transfer.


Under the United States Copyright Code, you may transfer your entire copyright or just specific rights that you identify by agreement. Additionally, it is possible to transfer your copyright by will. The Copyright Office does not provide forms for facilitating a transfer but any standard contract will do.


When transferring a copyright, you have the ability to transfer just some of your rights. This means that you could choose to transfer your rights to the distribution of your song, your performance rights or the right to make remixes of your work. When negotiating your transfer, be sure to be clear about what rights you are assigning and what rights you intend to maintain.

The Agreement

If you are transferring exclusive rights to your work, the agreement must be in writing, according to the Copyright Office. If you are just transferring partial rights you will not need a written agreement. Regardless of what rights are being transferred, you should put the agreement in writing to avoid disputes in the future.


For copyrighted works created on or after January 1, 1978, authors may recapture any copyrights they have assigned after 35 years. This copyright transfer reversion process will begin to come into effect in 2013 and it gives copyright owners who transferred their works an opportunity to recapture those works they've assigned.