The Difference Between Assignment Transfers & Copyrights

By Chris Blank

If you've created a piece of intellectual property -- a book, piece of music or computer code -- by law, you own the right to determine how the property is used. The law also gives you the right to transfer some or all of your intellectual property rights to a third party. You can register an assignment of intellectual property with the U.S. Copyright Office by a process called recordation.

Copyright Definition

The basis of copyright protection is found in the U.S. Constitution. Copyright is the recognition of legal rights concerning the results of the creative process. Copyright protects original works of intellectual property, whether the work is published or unpublished. You can’t copyright ideas – instead, copyright protects the specific way you choose to express an idea. A copyright owner has the right to sell or lease copies of the work to others and to permit others to display, record or perform the work in public. The copyright owner may also determine whether others may make copies of the work, and whether others may revise all or part of the work. Copyright differs from patents, which generally protect inventions. Copyright also differs from trademarks, which are often names or phrases used to identify goods and services.

Copyright Transfer

Copyright transfer can be nonexclusive. One of the most common examples of nonexclusive transfer of copyright is a licensing agreement. For instance, many computer software purchases are actually a form of transfer of the right to use the software for a specified period of time. The owner of the copyright for the software still owns the copyright. In many cases, a license is non-transferable. That is, the person who buys the license does not have the right to sell, lend or give the licensed property to a third party without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.

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Copyright Assignment

Unlike a license, assignment of copyright is an exclusive transfer. Assignment of copyright can involve a partial transfer or a transfer of the entire intellectual work. Assignment of copyright can be temporary, after which the copyright returns to the original owner. Assignment of copyright can also be permanent. A total, permanent assignment of copyright allows the party obtaining the copyright to distribute the property in any way she sees fit. One example of a permanent assignment of copyright for an entire piece of intellectual property is a work made for hire. The terms of a work made for hire specify that its copyright belongs to the person or entity that purchases a work made for hire, not the person who created it.

The Recordation Process

The U.S. Copyright Office does not have standard forms the process of recordation. However, the Copyright Office does provide a cover sheet to submit with the work submitted for recordation, the use of which is optional but encouraged. The requirements for a recordation are a complete, legible copy of the property being transferred, an original signature or a properly certified copy of a signature of the person assigning the copyright and the applicable fee. The property to be transferred does not have to be registered with the copyright office and can be published or unpublished.

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How to File a Copyright Application With the U.S. Copyright Office

As the author of an original creative work, you automatically acquire basic copyrights as soon as you create the work and fix it in a tangible form. A tangible form refers to physical documentation, from a pencil drawing on a cocktail napkin to a first draft of a screenplay or an audiovisual recording of an opera. When you file a copyright application, you claim ownership of the material. Once the copyright office processes your application, it makes your copyright registration information public through its federal database of U.S. copyrights. Copyright registration requires a certified application, filing fee and deposit of the original material.

Are Company Slogans Copyrighted?

Federal copyright law grants exclusive rights to the use of “original works of authorship,” whether or not they are published. Copyright law protects a broad range of works, including books, poems, songs, paintings and even computer programs. However, copyright law normally does not protect short phrases, such as a company slogan. Trademark law, on the other hand, specifically protects slogans that companies use to identify themselves as the maker of a product.

How to Copyright in Illinois

Copyright law in the state of Illinois, like all states, is governed by federal law. The U.S. Constitution vests in Congress the power establish copyrights, which was most recently done by enacting the Copyright Act of 1976. The act gives the authors of original works exclusive rights in their works, which applies to the work as soon as it is created in a fixed form, such as a document, video or audio recording. There is no requirement to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office; however, registered copyrights receive greater protection and remedies than unregistered copyrights.

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