Can I buy or sell the copyright to a photograph?

copyrighttextsymbol2Yes. Like other forms of property, copyrights are transferable. The copyright to a photograph may be bought, sold, given as a gift, or inherited. [1] A copyright may not be involuntarily taken from the author by a court or other government body, except in bankruptcy proceedings.

A document that transfers ownership of a copyright or otherwise pertains to a copyright may be recorded with the Copyright Office. Recordation provides public notice of the facts of the transfer and establishes legal priority in case of conflicting transfers or licenses.

Rather than selling the entire copyright to a photograph or other work, the copyright owner may grant a license of limited duration or with certain conditions.

A photographer who transfers the copyright to a photograph has the right to terminate the transfer after a period of time. For transfers made after 1977, the photographer (or his or her heirs) may terminate the transfer during the five-year period that begins 35 years after the grant was made, if certain procedural requirements are met. The right to termination cannot be contracted away. However, termination rights do not apply to works made for hire. Different rules apply to termination of transfers made prior to 1978.

  1. 17 U.S.C. §201(d).
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