An assignment of copyright is the legal transfer of a copyright from one owner to another. Copyright laws prevent others from using or distributing the protected material without the permission of its author. If an individual or company wishes to control decisions regarding any work of art, ownership must first be obtained.
A copyright is a type of legal protection offered by the national government of many countries. This protection is extended to the creators of intellectual works such as artists, writers, musicians, and inventors, among others. Almost any piece of intellectual work can be copyrighted, whether or not that work has been shown to the public at any time. For example, a novel that has never been published is still protected by copyright laws.
Copyrights come into existence the moment a piece of intellectual property is complete and in a fixed format. In the example used above, the unpublished novel is legally protected once the author has finished writing or typing the work on paper. Creators of these types of works do not need to register with their local government to receive copyright protection, however doing so does tend to provide them with a higher degree of security from theft or duplication.
The transfer of ownership may occur through legal proceedings or in the form of a written document. This can happen while the original author is living, or upon the event of his or her death, usually in the form of a will. Such documentation must include the signature of the original author, stating that he or she is willingly conveying ownership to the named party. Registration of an assignment of copyright with the local government is not necessary, but can offer legal protection to the new owner.
An assignment of copyright is different from selling an individual piece of intellectual property. Some items that are protected by these laws are individual works, such as a single painting or sculpture. These works may be sold from one owner to another while allowing the original creator to maintain his or her copyright on them.
A protected work of art may also be used or distributed with the permission of the author without an assignment of copyright. The original owner may agree to a contract allowing portions of the intellectual property to be reproduced. For instance, an author may allow his or her novel to be made into a movie while still maintaining controlling rights. This would prevent any further unauthorized use from occurring, such as the creation of action figures or personalized memorabilia.