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Transfer, assignment and licensing

Transfer and assignment

What rules, restrictions and procedures govern the transfer and assignment of copyright? Are any formalities required to secure the legal effect of the transfer or assignment?

Any or all of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights or any subdivision of those rights may be transferred, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by either the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorised agent. However, the written transfer does not need to be made at the time of assignment, and a later written document confirming the agreement is sufficient to prove the assignment. Transfer of a right on a non-exclusive basis does not require a written agreement. A copyright may also be conveyed by operation of law. Additionally, it may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession. Copyright is a personal property right and is subject to the various state laws and regulations that govern the ownership, inheritance or transfer of personal property as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business. The recording of a transfer with the Copyright Office is not required to make the transfer valid between the parties; however, it provides certain legal advantages and may be required to validate the transfer as against third parties. To bring an infringement suit in court, a copyright owner needs proof of an unbroken chain of title going back to the author of the work.

Licensing

What rules, restrictions and procedures govern copyright licensing?

Copyright rights can be licensed on an exclusive and non-exclusive basis. An exclusive licence generally occurs when a copyright owner transfers one or more, but not all, of its exclusive rights but retains others. The holder of an exclusive licence becomes the owner of the transferred right and as such is entitled to sue any party that infringes the right while the licensee owns it. A non-exclusive licence gives the licensee the right to exercise one or more of the copyright owner’s rights, but does not prevent the copyright owner from giving others permission to exercise the same right.

Are there any special provisions governing sub-licensing?

Exclusive licensees may sub-license only with the consent of the licensor.

What collective licensing bodies operate in your jurisdiction and how are their activities regulated?

Private organisations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Broadcast Music, Inc and SESAC Inc grant and administer licences for the public performance of musical works on behalf of the copyright owners of such works.

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