In the intricate world of intellectual property, the transfer of copyright ownership stands as a pivotal concept.

Whether you’re a creator looking to sell your rights or a business aiming to acquire them, understanding the nuances of this transfer is essential.

This article delves into the intricacies of transferring copyright ownership, its implications, and the processes involved.

What is Transfer of Copyright Ownership?

The transfer of copyright ownership refers to the process by which the rights associated with a copyrighted work are conveyed from the original copyright holder to another party.

This can encompass all or just specific rights related to the work.

Essentially, it’s a legal means by which the creator of a work (like a book, song, or film) can sell, bequeath, or otherwise hand over their exclusive rights to someone else.

Once transferred, the new owner gains the authority to use, distribute, or license the work based on the terms of the transfer, while the original creator might lose some or all of their rights to the work, depending on the agreement’s specifics.

Exercising Rights as a Copyright Holder

Just as you have the autonomy to decide what to do with a personal possession, the same principle applies to intellectual property, specifically copyright.

When you hold the copyright to a piece of work, you essentially have a set of exclusive rights at your disposal. As a copyright holder, you can:

  • Reproduce the Work: This means you can create copies of the original work in various formats, whether it’s a book, song, or artwork.
  • Sell the Work: You have the exclusive right to distribute and sell copies of your work, ensuring you reap the financial benefits of your creation.
  • Perform the Work in Public: If it’s a piece of music, play, or any other performable work, you can present it in public settings, be it a concert, theater, or any other venue.
  • Display the Work: This allows you to showcase your work, especially relevant for visual arts like paintings, sculptures, and photographs.
  • Sue for Copyright Infringement: If someone uses your work without permission, you have the legal right to take action against them. However, it’s essential to note that actions labeled as “fair use” are exceptions and cannot be grounds for infringement lawsuits.

In essence, copyright ownership empowers creators, granting them control and protection over their intellectual creations.

How to Initiate Copyright Transfer in India?

In the intricate landscape of intellectual property in India, the transfer of copyright emerges as a pivotal mechanism.

This process allows actual creators and authors to bestow their exclusive rights upon third parties, ensuring mutual advantages and valuable consideration.

Such rights, often referred to as ‘Author rights’, encompass the exclusive authority over the work’s utilisation, distribution, replication, and dissemination across India.

Grasping the varied avenues for executing an exclusive copyright transfer is paramount for both originators and beneficiaries.

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The entire copyright ownership typically resides with the initial owner of copyright or author for their entire life plus an additional sixty years post their demise.

Within this timeframe, rights can be transferred from authors through the following methods:

Copyright Licensing

Copyright Licensing entails granting specific rights of a copyright owner to a third party. This is formalised through a Licensing Agreement endorsed by both parties.

The aim is to empower the licensee to monetise the copyrighted material, sharing the proceeds with the original owner. It’s vital to distinguish Copyright Licensing from Copyright Assignment.

In the former, the original creator retains ownership, merely transferring usage rights. In contrast, the latter involves a complete transfer of ownership.

Types of Copyright Licenses

  1. Voluntary License: This is a consensual agreement between the licensor and the licensee. Key elements of this license include:
    • The nature of the work and rights licensed.
    • The territorial scope of the license.
    • Provisions concerning the license’s termination, renewal, and extension.
    • The stipulated royalty amount in return for the license.
  2. Compulsory License: This license is sanctioned by the copyright board to third parties, bypassing the Copyright Owner’s consent. It’s typically invoked when the owner withholds the work from the public domain. Specific scenarios might encompass:
    • An owner’s refusal to republish a previously published work, limiting its public accessibility.
    • An owner’s denial to permit a work’s public performance, which has been showcased before, thereby curtailing its public reach.
    • An owner’s rejection to broadcast a work, hindering its public communication.

It’s essential to note that the term “work” here pertains to a cinematographic film or sound recording produced in India, or an artistic creation crafted by an Indian citizen.

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Copyright Assignment

For every copyrighted work, the individual author or original owner possesses the capability to transfer their ownership rights to another party.

This process, known as the assignment of copyright, allows the original creator to delegate these rights to third parties.

Being a copyright holder bestows upon the individual a combination of both economic and moral rights.

When an assignment of copyright takes place, these rights are seamlessly transitioned to the new copyright assignee.

The Indian Copyright Act of 1957 elucidates that even the anticipated copyright of a work yet to be realised can undergo assignment, either partially or wholly.

However, for it to be a valid assignment, the work must first come into existence.

To facilitate this transfer, Copyright assignment agreements are essential.

These agreements, which are formalised between the original owner and the recipient, hold significant legal weight and must be structured appropriately.

Essential components of these agreements include:

  • Clearly defined terms concerning the potential revision and termination of the assignment.
  • A transparent mention of the royalty amount tied to the assignment.
  • A written format, duly endorsed by the individual author.
  • Detailed descriptions of the copyrighted work and the rights being transferred.
  • If the duration of the assignment of copyright isn’t explicitly mentioned, it defaults to a 5-year term from the assignment’s date. Similarly, absent geographical specifications imply that the assignment’s reach is confined to India.
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Copyright Transmission

When an original author, engrossed in crafting a manuscript – be it dramatic, literary, artistic, or musical – unfortunately passes away before its publication, the transfer of ownership may not end there.

Instead, the transfer of rights is directed to the individual specified in the deceased’s will.

This ensures that the work, even in the absence of its creator, can be protected under copyright laws and potentially published.

Copyright Relinquishment

There are instances where the original author or copyright owner might decide to voluntarily forgo either all or specific rights tied to their creation.

This act, known as relinquishing copyright, requires a formal process.

To enact this, the copyright owner must send a notification to the Registrar of Copyrights using the designated form.

From the date mentioned in this notice, the rights in question cease to exist.

The registrar, upon receipt of such a notice, ensures its publication in the Official Gazette or another suitable medium.

This public declaration ensures clarity and awareness regarding the transfer from authors or copyright holders.

Understanding the Termination of Transfer of Copyright Ownership

While transferring copyright ownership might seem like a permanent decision, there are circumstances where such transfers can be revoked.

However, it’s essential to note that not all copyright assignments can be terminated. The following are exceptions where termination is not feasible:

  • Work Made for Hire: If the work was specifically commissioned or created as part of an employment contract, the copyright assignment cannot be terminated.
  • Assignments Made in Wills: Copyright transfers specified in a deceased person’s will are binding and cannot be revoked.
  • Assignments by a Living Author: If the original author is still alive and the assignment was made by another individual, it cannot be terminated.
  • Assignments by Non-Heirs: If the original author has passed away and the assignment was made by someone who isn’t a direct legal heir, termination is not possible.

However, there’s a silver lining. An author who has previously transferred their copyright can potentially reclaim their rights after a specific duration.

This process of termination and reclamation is intricate, with the rules varying based on the work’s initial publication date.

As per the prevailing law, a transfer can be terminated under particular conditions, 35 years post the initial copyright transfer. It’s noteworthy that the current legislation doesn’t mandate a renewal claim, except if the work was in its primary protection phase when the law underwent changes.

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For those looking to terminate a copyright assignment or lease, a formal, signed written notice of termination must be served to the assignee.

Additionally, a duplicate of this notice should be dispatched to the U.S. Copyright Office for official recording. For further clarity and to view any recorded terminations, individuals can peruse the public records maintained by the U.S. Copyright Office.


The realm of “transfer of copyright ownership” can be likened to the dynamics of personal property in a physical space.

Just as one might lease or sell a sole proprietorship, an author, for purposes of monetisation or collaboration, might opt for copyright transfer agreements or a licence agreement.

While the benefits of author-driven transfers are manifold, it’s crucial that every assignment of copyright should be documented in the prescribed form to avoid a conflicting transfer.

Transfers of rights might seem straightforward, but they deeply influence the copyright owner’s control over their creations.

Hence, understanding and navigating copyright ownership rights is paramount for all involved parties.


What is the difference between a copyright transfer agreement and a licence agreement?

A copyright transfer agreement involves the complete handover of copyright ownership rights from the original owner to another party. In contrast, a licence agreement allows the original copyright owner to grant specific rights to another party while retaining overall ownership.

What rights does a copyright owner have?

A copyright owner possesses exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, and display their work. They also have the right to authorise others to exercise these rights and to seek legal redress against those who infringe upon these rights.

How authors can transfer their copyright ownership?

Authors can transfer their copyright ownership through formal agreements, such as copyright transfer or assignment agreements. These agreements should be in writing and specify the rights being transferred, the duration, and any consideration payable for the transfer, along with other pertinent terms.

What is a Copyright?

Copyright is a legal protection granted to original creators for their literary, artistic, cinematograph film, musical, or other intellectual works. This protection allows creators to control the use, distribution, and adaptation of their creations for a specified period.

Who Owns a Copyright?

Typically, the original creator or author of a work owns the copyright. However, if the work was made for hire, the employer or commissioning party might own the copyright. Ownership can also be transferred through agreements or bequeathed upon the creator’s death.