Ownership and transfer

Eligible owners

Who is the owner of a copyrighted work?

The creator of the work is the first owner, unless the work is created by an employee in the course of their employment. In that case, their employer is the first owner of copyright in the work. A work may be jointly owned where it is produced by the collaboration of two or more authors in which the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other author or authors.

A film is treated as a work of joint authorship by the producer and principal director (unless they are the same person) and a broadcast is treated as a work of joint authorship in any case where more than one person is to be taken as making the broadcast.

Employee and contractor work

May an employer own a copyrighted work made by an employee?

Yes, if the copyright work is created during the course of the employee’s employment then the employer will be the first owner, subject to any agreement to the contrary.

May a hiring party own a copyrighted work made by an independent contractor?

Yes, provided that there is an agreement that assigns ownership of copyright to the hiring party. Assignment of ownership of copyright to the hiring party does not occur automatically by virtue of the hiring relationship.

Joint and collective ownership

May a copyrighted work be co-owned?

Yes, a copyright work can be co-owned by individuals and entities. Co-ownership can, however, lead to complicated issues in relation to further dealings in the copyright and enforcement against infringements.

Transfer of rights

May rights be transferred?

Yes, copyright may be transferred, or ‘assigned’. Assignments must be in writing.


May rights be licensed?

Yes, copyright may be licensed.

Are there compulsory licences? What are they?

Compulsory licences do not generally exist under English law. There were specific compulsory licence provisions that applied in circumstances where copyright had been revived. However, these provisions were repealed in April 2017 as part of the consultation process relating to the repeal of section 52 CDPA since the UK government did not believe that these provisions were compatible with EU laws which provide that certain acts are exclusive to the author of the work.

Are licences administered by performing rights societies? How?

Yes, licences are administered by performing rights societies in the UK, for example, PRS for music (PRS) and PPL. PRS manages the rights of songwriters, composers and publishers while PPL manages the rights of the record producers and the performers. There is also the British Equity Collecting Society, which is a collective management organisation for audiovisual performers. This organisation was established by the performers’ union, Equity, and enforces its members’ performance rights in the UK and EU.


Is there any provision for the termination of transfers of rights?

As a general rule, an assignment of ownership of copyright takes effect and is not terminated by operation of copyright law. It may, however, be able to be terminated by one of the parties depending on what terms they have agreed in the assignment.


Can documents evidencing transfers and other transactions be recorded with a government agency?

Since the ownership of the copyright in a work is not registrable in itself, it is not possible to record the transfer of the copyright either and so no such agency exists.

Copyright is an asset over which is it possible to take security. For example, copyright can be the subject of a fixed or floating charge or a legal mortgage.