Buying and Selling a Copyright

A copyright is more than an intangible asset - it's an asset that has real value to buyers and sellers. But when it comes to buying and selling copyrights, a little information goes a long way.

Whether you realize it or not, your company owns assets that can't be seen or touched.

Intellectual property has real and sometimes significant value in today's marketplace - but only if it is adequately protected with proper legal mechanisms.

Copyrights are designed to provide exclusive rights to your company's original literary, artistic, graphic, and other works. Although many people associate copyrights with creative entrepreneurs, every business owner should be knowledgeable about copyright laws and transfer requirements. Your company's marketing jingles, published content, proprietary web content, and much more could be vulnerable (and valueless) without adequate copyright protection.

Whether you are considering selling copyrights with the sale of your company or on a piecemeal basis, there are special considerations that need to be addressed to protect the buyer's ownership claim to your material. Conversely, as a buyer of copyrighted works you will need to make sure that the seller has completed the necessary process to protect your legal ownership interest in your new copyright.

Transferring Copyrights

Although U.S. copyrights are fully transferable, sales, purchases, and transfers are subject to specific legal requirements. For starters, copyright transfers are invalid until the transfer has been formalized through the written signature of the copyright owner or an authorized representative of the owner. If the sale or transfer does not include exclusive rights (e.g. permission to use a copyrighted work), written authorization is not required.

In practice, most copyright sales are performed on a contractual basis. The U.S. Copyright Office does not provide contract forms or templates, so you will need to rely on your attorney to draft a contract for the sale or purchase. Yet despite its reticence to provide transfer contracts, the U.S. Copyright Office encourages copyright owners to record the transfer with their office to ensure adequate legal protection for the new owner.

Buyers and sellers should be aware of the fact that copyrights are considered to be legitimate personal property. As such, they are subject to state laws concerning the sale, transfer, and inheritance of personal property. Since the contract will also be subject to state laws, adequate legal counsel is a necessity for copyright sales, purchases, and transfers.

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