The primary goal of copyright law is to protect the time, effort, and creativity of the work’s creator. As such, the Copyright Act gives the copyright owner certain exclusive rights, including the right to:
- Reproduce the work
- Prepare “derivative works” (other works based on the original work)
- Distribute copies of the work by sale, lease, or other transfer of ownership
- Perform the work publicly
- Display the work publicly
The copyright owner also has the right to authorize other people to do any of the rights mentioned above. The copyright owner has the option and ability to transfer his or her exclusive rights — or any subdivision of those rights — to others as well. The Copyright Office does not have forms for these transfers, so a transfer of copyright is usually done through a contract. It is not legally required for a transfer to be recorded with the Copyright Office, but having a legal record of the transaction is often a good idea.
If an author or artist creates a work for a company or in the course of his or her employment, the creator is usually not the copyright owner. This situation is known as a “work made for hire,” and it gives copyright ownership to the employer or person who commissioned the work. A work made for hire situation can occur when an independent contractor is hired to create a particular work, or if the work is created by an employee while he or she is on the job. For example, if an employee writes articles for a company, the company is the copyright owner not the actual writer.