A copyright owner can sell or transfer their rights to someone else. This is known as copyright assignment. Assignment can take place in several ways:
- Automatic assignment – where ownership of copyright transfers automatically to a third party, eg by inheritance or by insolvency.
- Elective assignment – where a copyright owner chooses to transfer their rights, either by sale or by gift. For this to be valid, the assignment must be in writing and signed by (or on behalf of) the original copyright owner.
- Partial assignment – where the owner wishes to assign only a part of your copyright. For example, assign the right to copy the work to a publisher, and the right to make adaptations of the work to a film company.
Copyright assignment vs copyright licence
Copyright assignment and copyright licence contrast greatly in measure and in finality:
- An assignment of copyright is like the sale of personal property. When you sell your rights to a third party, you can no longer exercise control over how the third party uses those rights.
- A licence is an agreement where you maintain ownership of the rights involved, but allow a third party to exercise some or all of those rights without fear of a copyright infringement suit.
If you wish to maintain some ownership over your copyright, or control over how the third party uses your rights, you may wish to opt for licensing instead of copyright assignment. Find out how to license your copyright.
Moral rights in copyright transfers
With certain copyright material, you may retain moral rights to the works even if you sell the copyright. See more on moral rights in your economic rights from owning copyright.