620.1 What Is a Transfer of Copyright Ownership?
The Copyright Act states that a transfer of ownership “is an assignment, mortgage, exclusive license, or any other conveyance, alienation, or hypothecation of a copyright or of any of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, whether or not it is limited in time or place of effect.” 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “transfer of copyright ownership”). It also states that a nonexclusive license is not a transfer of ownership. Id.
The copyright in a work initially belongs to the author or authors of that work. 17 U.S.C. § 201 (A). Section 201 (D) of the Copyright Act explains that “[t]he ownership of a copyright may be transferred in whole or in part by any means of conveyance or by operation of law, and may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.” As a general rule, a transfer of copyright ownership must be made in writing, and it must be signed by the copyright owner conveying the copyright. Section 204 (A) of the Copyright Act states that “a transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument or conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.”