Copyright Licenses and Copyright Assignments
A copyright owner's exclusive rights in and to a work can be transferred in various ways, including via an exclusive copyright license or a copyright assignment. Non-exclusive copyright license agreements and the sale of an original artistic work, or a copy of a work, does not transfer copyright ownership.
Exclusive Copyright Licenses
A copyright owner may transfer one or more of the exclusive rights he maintains in a work via an exclusive copyright license. Generally an exclusive license arrangement, as opposed to an assignment, is used where the copyright owner intends to retain some right in and to the copyrighted work.
Assignment of Copyright
A copyright owner may also transfer all of the exclusive rights s/he retains in a copyrighted work via a copyright assignment. When a copyright assignment is executed, generally, the copyright owner is not intending to retain any rights in or to the copyrighted work. But there is a catch. Under the copyight laws, regardless of the intent, the original copyright owner while living will retain a non-waivable statutory right to terminate a copyright transfer. This right however must be exercised by the author himself, or if dead when the termination right comes into existence by the authors heirs (window, children and grandchildren). It should be noted that the author cannot designate another individual to exercise this right in a will. Only the surviving family may inherit this non-waivable right.
The Statutory Right Of Termination
The time frame upon which the right to terminate a transfer can be exercised depends on the exclusive rights transferred. A termination of the transfer of the exclusive right to publish the work may occur for 5 years from the earlier of the following: 40 years after the date of transfer or 35 years after the date of first publication. A termination of the transfer of any other exclusive right(s) may occur for 5 years beginning 35 years after the transfer was made.
To begin the termination process, the author or appropriate heirs must serve the owners of the rights being terminated with a valid written notice of termination and record the notice with the Copyright Office. This process will not be discussed in further detail as the first date upon which this right will be exercisable by anyone is January 1, 2013. Nevertheless, if a transfer is terminated, the rights transferred will revert back to the author if she or he is still alive. If the author is deceased, the rights will revert back to the author's intestate heirs (spouse, children and grandchildren).
Other Rights Retained By the Author After Transfer
When a copyright owner has transferred his or her rights in and to a work, the copyright owner still retains the right to file a supplemental copyright registration. In addition, where the copyright transfer is for a term of years, the author retains the right to provide the Copyright Office with notice that the exclusive term has expired, or that the copyright transfer has been revoked because the transferee failed to abide by the terms of the exclusive license agreement.