A copyright transfer can take many forms. It can be gifted, assigned, sold… basically, a copyright transfer happens anytime the copyright changes hands, whether or not money was involved. (Side note: a copyright license is not a transfer, because you are giving someone permission to use the copyright, but you still retain ownership of the copyright itself). So how do you effectively make a copyright transfer?
According to the Copyright Act, a copyright transfer must be in writing to be valid. For the sake of legal clarity, you want to explicitly state every single work that is being transferred, and you want to clearly state that you are making a transfer, so there’s no confusion about what is happening. (At the risk of stating the obvious, you also want to include your name, the name of the person receiving the copyright, and your signature.) While notarization of the writing is not required, it’s a good practice to ensure that no one can question the validity of the document down the road.
What if you want to transfer a lot of copyrights at once? If you want to transfer 100 or more copyrights in one document, then listing them all inside of a paragraph can be problematic. In cases like that, it may make sense to attach a Schedule to the back and simply reference the Schedule in the document.
So that’s how you go about making a transfer. But why make a transfer in the first place? Under what circumstances is a transfer a good idea?
The first reason you might want to make a transfer is to make it easier to administer your estate after your death. This could mean assigning your copyrights to a trust or corporation if they are valuable enough, so there’s no risk of probate and the copyrights can be properly managed. If your circumstances are such that you don’t need a trust or corporation, you can simply name a beneficiary in your will.
The second reason you might want to make a transfer is to sell or gift your copyrights to someone else. At one point it was standard practice to sell your copyrights to a publisher rather than give them a license. While that is no longer the norm, there may be instances where an outright sale makes more sense than a license, or where you want to give the copyrights away during your lifetime rather than on death.
The third reason you might want to make a transfer is to more easily manage your copyrights through a corporate entity. While this could be done for estate planning purposes, as mentioned above, it can also be done for purely administrative purposes, such as getting a better tax rate or creating systems to better manage your portfolio.
Whatever your reason for making the transfer, it’s always important to dot the i’s and cross the t’s so the transfer is not questioned or invalidated down the road. If you would like help making a copyright transfer, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.