Assignment of copyright

A copyright assignment is not the same ‘assignment’ that one might do as a student – what we are talking about here is where the ownership of copyright – for example, the ‘rights’ to a composition – is transferred from one person to another.

In copyright terms, a composition is a ‘musical work’ The lyrics to a song are a ‘literary work’.  A painting is an ‘artistic work’ – and so on.

So, here I set out the basic picture. Of course, across the global spectrum, there will be differences – the copyright laws in South Africa, or Australia, or Britain, will have minor variances from, say, the Canadian copyright laws, or the German laws, for example.  But it would be safe to say that, pretty much everywhere, there are two essential requirements.

The way to transfer ownership is by a deed of assignment. This is the same, by the way, with patent assignments, and all other intellectual property.

Now, here are the prerequisites for a valid assignment:

1. It must be recorded in writing.
2. The written recordal – the document – must be signed by the owner of the                      copyright.

In the section dealing with a ‘work’ created by an employee,  we see that the ‘author’ of a work is not always the owner of the copyright that subsists in the work. But leaving aside the possible variations (such as when you create a work in the course of your employment, or if you are commissioned to create the work), the consequence of the fact that you composed a song, is that you own the copyright in that ‘musical work’. If there are joint composers, then you both own the copyright.

There is another aspect, which is more a matter of certainty and clarity for the purposes of the transaction.  This is that you must identify the ‘works’ which are designated for assignment. One needs to be careful here, because if the works are not specified, the songwriter might end up with an argument on his hands that he has assigned all his songs – whether compsoed in the past or in future!

For a good precedent of a copyright assignment agreement you can look at the link: it is for Free Legal Documents, a great site.

That said, the ‘assignment’ can be, and sometimes is, incorporated in a document which deals with other aspects – say, a sale of business, or shares, or employment, merger, whatever. Collateral assignment is also quite common.

One thing to remember is that copyright assignment is core to the management of publishing rights in your work – well, at least, if someone else is going to do the publishing for you. And that is probably a good thing, because people like Geoff Paynter, the BandBay Expert on publishing, know how to do these things. They know the pitfalls, the route map, have the connections and so forth.

The essential element, as I have said, is that to be effective, a copyright assignment must be (a) a written transaction, and must (b) be signed by the assignor, in other words the owner, of the copyright. If it isn’t, there is no deal!

Back To Owning Copyright
Go to Composer Rights
Go to Employee’s Copyright
Go to Original Composition