Copyright ownership encompasses several important concepts beyond the simple question of who initially created the work at issue. As discussed below, the person who creates a work is not necessarily the copyright owner. Many mistakenly believe that the creator of a work automatically holds the copyright. While this is often the case, exceptions do occur when an employee creates a work in the course of his or her employment, or if an independent contractor creates a work "made for hire." Moreover, if more than one "creator" is involved, the copyright might be shared. Further complicating the picture, the original creator(s) may have transferred their copyright to another person or entity.
The following sections touch on each of these issues, as well as the advantages that come from registering a copyrighted work and providing copyright notice:
- Works Owned by One or More Creators - This section describes copyright ownership when one or more individuals are involved in the creation of a copyrightable work.
- Works Owned by Someone Else - If a work is created by an employee in the course of his or her employment or the work is created by an independent contractor and qualifies as a work "made for hire," then the employer or firm that commissioned the work will likely own the copyright. This section explains the "work made for hire" doctrine and discusses when it will apply.
- Copyright Registration and Notice - This section explains how to use a copyright notice in conjunction with your work and how to register your work with the Copyright Office.
- Copyright Licenses and Transfers - If you own a copyright, you have the ability to license or transfer all or a portion of your exclusive rights in the copyrighted work to another person or entity. This section helps you determine whether such an action is appropriate for you.