Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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1005 Transfer of Ownership by Terms of Service

1005 Transfer of Ownership by Terms of Service

In some cases, an individual author may be asked to accept the terms of service for a website before the author uploads UGC to that site. If the terms of service state that the website becomes the owner of all the exclusive rights in any works that are lawfully uploaded to that site, the author may be deemed to have transferred ownership of the copyright in that UGC through a written, digitally-signed transfer agreement. See Metropolitan Regional Information Systems v. American Home Realty Network, Inc., 722 F.3d 591 (4th Cir. 2013).

While this issue has not been addressed by many courts, at present the U.S. Copyright Office will accept an application that names the owner of a website as the claimant for UGC that has been uploaded to that site, but only if the applicant identifies the authors of that content in the application and confirms that the authors transferred their rights to the claimant. The Office encourages applicants to name all the authors of the UGC that is claimed in the application. However, if the content was created by a large number of authors, the Office will accept an application that provides representative names of some of the authors and the number of additional authors who contributed to the content that is included in the claim (e.g., “B.F. Pierce, John McIntyre, Hank Blake, Walter O’Reilly, and 14 others”). In any claim of ownership involving a “click-through” agreement or terms of service agreement, the claimant must know and have a record of the names of the authors who transferred ownership of all the exclusive rights to the claimant. To verify this requirement, the registration specialist may request additional information from the applicant. In such cases, the specialist will not accept transfers from anonymous, pseudonymous, or unidentified authors as a valid transfer of ownership.

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