How Do You Know Who Owns a Copyright?


Quick Answer

The creator of an intellectual property owns the copyright as soon as the work is fixed in a tangible form, reports the U.S. Copyright Office. Exceptions include work made by an employee during employment, works made for hire or when the owner assigns the copyright to someone else, states Nolo.

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How Do You Know Who Owns a Copyright?
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Full Answer

Copyright applies to all intellectual property such as literary works, songs, movies, photographs and computer software, although it does not apply to names, titles, logos, slogans and ideas, according to the U.S. Copyright Office. Unless an exception applies, the assumption is that the creator owns the copyright. Although those looking for the owners of copyrighted material can search the records of the U.S. Copyright Office, it is not necessary to register a work or affix the copyright logo to claim copyright ownership. Whether or not a work is registered, those seeking to use either all or a substantial portion of it must obtain assignment or license from the owner before copying it.

If an employee creates intellectual work during employment, the employer owns the copyright, reports Nolo. If a business or person hires an independent contractor to create a work such as an article, screenplay, translation, instructions or supplementary work, the person or entity who hired the creator generally owns the copyright. If the copyright owner assigns or sells all rights to someone else, the buyer is the new owner of the copyright. When a copyright owner licenses a work, the license holder can use it only under limited conditions.

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