How do I find out who owns the copyright in a book?

Usually, the author of the creative work is the owner of the copyright. But in the publishing industry, the owner of the copyright may be the publishing company due to an agreement between the author and the publisher. Some of the big names in book publishing are Random House, DoubleDay, and Penguin.

Sharon Boone discusses why this is the case very concisely: 

In some cases, the author of written material will sell the copyright of the material to another person or company, making the purchaser of the copyright the new owner of the copyrighted material. Additionally, there is a long list of transferable rights for the written material which the copyright owner can contract to other parties or individuals when seeking to profit from the copyrighted material.

Sometimes, even though a book is published by a major publisher, the author still owns the copyright. This is because the author can give a license which gives the publisher temporary limited permission to use the story, instead of a full assignment, which permanently transfers all rights to the book. 

Boone elaborates on the issue: 

The publication of copyrighted material by someone other than the owner require[s] the copyright owners permission which can be accomplished by a licensing agreement or by contracting specific usage rights to the other parties or individuals. Neither these actions will require the author to sell or lose their ownership of the copyrighted material.

This is the ideal situation for an author because it allows them to determine whether to authorize an adaptation of their book (making the book into a movie) and other commercialization ventures. Due to the creative authority retained by the author, it is difficult to negotiate such a contract.

If you are a writer looking to see who owns a copyright in a specific book or just curious, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.

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