A copyright assignment is when the copyright holder transfers ownership of the copyright to another person or organization.
The copyright holder is normally the person who created the work, but they may decide to sign the agreement over to a publisher (in the book industry or music industry) or record label (in the music industry). This occurs because publishers and record labels have more resources than an author to print copies of the work, distribute to a broader audience, and maintain other aspects of their career. A lot of times, the publisher or record label may even supply the author with a monetary advance so the author can focus on just creating the work.
The downside of assigning your copyright over to a publisher is that you receive only a cut of what you would have received if you retained the copyright, and you may also lose some creative control. For instance, the decision over whether to turn your book into a movie may now rest with the publisher and not you.
An alternative of transferring the entire copyright over to a publisher is licensing the work to them in a limited capacity. In this instance, you retain the copyright, but you also get the business advantages from the publisher.
Debates have popped into court over who actually owns a copyright. So like any other contract, an assignment must be in writing in order to avoid any future confusion.
If you have a question about whether you own a copyright and/or if need an assignment drafted, 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.