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When (and how) can you transfer a copyright?

Copyrights are an essential part of protecting your interests -- especially if you are in a creative industry. Your copyright gives you full control over your original work -- without having to be concerned that someone else will claim it as their own or duplicate it without your permission.

However, there are plenty of times that people decide that they want to either give away their copyright or sell it. Like any other form of property, the ownership of a copyright can be transferred to someone else. It's just important (for both parties) that the process by carefully documented.

Here are some other facts to know about copyright transfer:

1. You can transfer your copyright in whole or in part

Many times, people want to grant someone the use of their original work on a limited basis. That's a partial transfer of your copyright. For example, imagine that you write an article for a trade magazine. You agree to sell the First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) to the trade magazine, which gives the magazine the right to publish the article first in the United States and Canada. You retain the right to market it elsewhere in the world. You also retain the right to publish it wherever else you please -- on your own website, for example -- once the magazine has made its publication first.

2. You can will your copyright to someone

This is important for many people because their work may have significant value long after they are gone. You may want to make sure that your heirs benefit from your hard work by granting them your copyrights in your will.

Copyrights are generally transferred via contract or will, but the United States Copyright Office does record copyright transfers in order to provide legal protection against claims by third parties.

Copyrights -- like all intellectual property rights -- can be difficult to understand. If you have a copyright issue, it may be wise to get some experienced legal assistance.

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