In the dynamic world of creativity and intellectual property, the assignment of copyright plays a crucial role in granting control and ownership over original works.

When creators produce literary, artistic, musical, or other creative expressions, they hold certain exclusive rights that can be transferred to others through copyright assignment.

This process facilitates the transfer of ownership, enabling individuals, organisations, or entities to exercise the rights pertaining to copyrighted works.

In this article, we delve into the fundamentals of copyright assignment, its significance, and the considerations involved in effectively transferring these valuable rights.

Assignment of Copyright under Copyright Act 1957: Ownership Transfer and Limitations

The person who owns the copyright of an existing work or may own the copyright of a future work has the right to transfer the copyright to someone else.

This assignment can be total or partial, broad or subject to limitations, and cover the entire duration of the copyright or only a portion of it.

It’s important to note that in the case of assigning the copyright for future work, the assignment only takes effect once the work is created and in existence.

Additionally, an assignment of copyright cannot be applied to any medium or mode of exploitation that didn’t exist or wasn’t commercially used at the time of the assignment, unless the assignment specifically mentions such a medium or mode of exploitation.

Authors of literary or musical works featured in films are unable to give up their right to receive royalties, except when the work is publicly communicated in a cinema hall alongside the cinematographic film.

This right to royalties should be shared equally with the assignee of copyright, unless it is assigned to the legal heirs of the authors or a copyright society for collection and distribution.

Any agreement to the contrary will be considered void.

Similarly, authors of literary or musical works included in original sound recordings (but not part of any cinematograph film) cannot assign or waive their right to receive royalties, except to their legal heirs or a collecting society for collection and distribution.

Any assignment conflicting with this provision will be deemed void.

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Sections 18 (2) and 18 (3)

When an assignee is granted rights under copyright law, they are considered the legal owners of those specific rights.

Conversely, the assignor retains ownership of the copyright for any rights that have not been assigned.

If the assignee passes away prior to the completion of the work, their legal representatives will receive the benefits of the assignment.

Mode of Assignment of Copyright (Section 19)

  1. A written agreement, signed by the assignor or their authorised agent, is necessary for the assignment of copyright in any work to be legally valid.
  2. The assignment of copyright to a work must clearly identify the specific work being assigned. Additionally, the agreement should explicitly state the rights being assigned, along with the duration and territorial extent of the assignment.
  3. The assignment of copyright in any work must also specify the amount of royalty and any other consideration to be paid to the author or their legal heirs during the assignment period. The agreement allows for the possibility of extending, revising, or ending the assignment based on mutually agreed-upon terms.
  4. If the assignee fails to exercise the rights assigned to them within one year from the date of assignment, the assignment of those specific rights will be considered expired after the expiration of the one-year period, unless otherwise stated in the assignment agreement.
  5. The period of Assignment will be 5 years from the assignment date, unless otherwise stated. This ensures a reasonable timeframe for the assignee to exercise the assigned rights before the assignment expires.
  6. If the territorial scope of the rights assignment is not specified, it will be presumed to cover the jurisdiction of India. This presumption ensures that the assignment is applicable within the country, unless stated otherwise.
  7. The provisions stated in sub-sections (2), (3), (4), (5), and (6) shall not apply to assignments made prior to the enactment of the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 1994 (38 of 1994).
  8. A copyright assignment in a piece of work that conflicts with the conditions of rights already given to a copyright society to which the author belongs would be ruled invalid.
  9. The assignment of copyright in a work for the purpose of creating a cinematograph film does not diminish the right of the author to receive an equal share of royalties and consideration in the event of the work’s utilisation in any form other than its public communication alongside the cinematograph film in a cinema hall.
  10. The author’s entitlement to receive an equal share of the royalties and other considerations payable for the use of the work is unaffected when the copyright to a work is transferred for the purpose of producing a sound recording that isn’t featured in a film.
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Disputes Regarding Copyright Assignments (Section 19a)

According to Section 19(a), if the assignee fails to adequately exercise the rights assigned to them without any fault on the part of the assignor, the Appellate Board has the authority to revoke the assignment.

Upon receiving a complaint from the assignor, the Appellate Board will conduct an inquiry to determine the validity of the claim.

In the event of a dispute arising from the assignment of copyright, the Appellate Board has the power to issue appropriate orders after conducting a thorough inquiry based on a complaint filed by the aggrieved party.

These orders may include provisions for the recovery of any outstanding royalties that are due.

Assignment by Operation of Law (Section 20)

When there is no valid will, the copyright ownership transfers to the personal representative of the owner after their demise, as a component of the estate.

As per the copyright law’s Section 20, if a person inherits the copyright and the work has not been published before the testator’s death, that individual will be considered the copyright holder to the extent that the testator owned the copyright unless the testator’s will or any codicil states otherwise.

This provision ensures that the rightful owner of the copyright is passed on in accordance with the intentions of the deceased copyright owner.

Moral Rights in Copyright Assignment

Authors maintain their moral rights regardless of whether they have assigned their copyright, as these rights are distinct from copyright.

  • The creator of a work retains the right to be recognised as the author of the work;
  • If the original work is distorted, modified, or mutilated, the creator has the right to seek damages;
  • If the assignee’s actions or omissions cause harm to the creator’s reputation, the creator has the right to seek damages, provided such actions occur before the assignment term expires.


The assignment of copyright is a crucial aspect of copyright law that involves the transfer of ownership rights from the original owner to another party.

This transfer can be complete or partial, depending on the terms agreed upon between the parties involved.

The assignment must be done in writing, following the prescribed form, and signed by the assignor to be legally valid.

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During the assignment, various elements need to be addressed, such as the duration of the assignment, termination on terms agreed upon, and the royalty payable to the original owner.

It is essential to clearly identify and specify the bundle of rights being transferred to the assignee to avoid any future disputes or copyright infringement issues.

Once the assignment is complete, the assignee becomes the new owner of the copyright, and the original owner may retain rights not assigned.

However, it is crucial to note that copyright protection remains in effect for a specific period of time, even after the assignment.

If the assignee does not utilise the granted rights within a year of the assignment, they will be considered expired.

In essence, the assignment of copyright provides a legal framework for the transfer of ownership rights in an original creation from the original owner to a prospective owner, ensuring the proper management and utilisation of intellectual property while safeguarding the interests of all parties involved.


What is the assignment of copyright?

The term “copyright assignment” refers to the transfer of copyright ownership rights from the original owner (the “assignor”) to another entity (the “assignee”).

It involves granting the assignee certain rights to use, reproduce, distribute, and monetise the copyrighted work.

Can copyright be assigned?

Yes, copyright can be assigned. Owners of copyrights have the option to assign their ownership interests to a third party.

The assignment allows the assignee to exercise the exclusive rights associated with the copyright, such as reproducing, distributing, and publicly displaying the copyrighted work.

The terms and conditions of the assignment, including the extent of the transfer and any limitations or conditions, are agreed upon between the assignor and the assignee in a written assignment agreement.

Can copyright be partially assigned?

Yes, copyright can be assigned either wholly or partially. A partial assignment allows the assignee to obtain specific rights or limited usage rights over the copyrighted work while the original owner retains some rights.

What is the duration of a copyright assignment?

The assignment will last for a period of five years starting from the date of assignment, unless there are any specific instructions to the contrary.

Can an assignment of copyright be terminated?

Yes, an assignment of copyright can be terminated if both parties agree to termination on specific terms outlined in the assignment agreement.

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Termination clauses may address circumstances such as non-compliance, breach of agreement, or completion of the assigned purpose.

Are royalties payable after the assignment of the copyright?

It depends on the terms agreed upon in the assignment agreement.

The assignor may retain the right to receive subsequent royalties or a share of the profits generated from the use of the copyrighted work, subject to the terms and conditions negotiated between the parties.

Does the assignment of copyright place the work in the public domain?

No, the assignment of copyright does not automatically place the work in the public domain.

The assignee gains rights and ownership over the copyrighted work, while the assignor may retain certain rights or control over the work as specified in the assignment agreement.

How is copyright assigned?

Copyright is typically assigned through a written agreement between the copyright holder(assignor) and the recipient (assignee).

The assignment agreement outlines the details of the transfer, including the specific rights being assigned, the duration of the assignment, any compensation involved, and other terms and conditions agreed upon by both parties.

The agreement is signed by both parties to signify their consent and create a legally binding contract.