Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Rights to Parent's Biography

Dear Rich: A family friend wrote an unpublished biography about my deceased parent some time ago and doesn’t intend to pursue publication himself. He has not registered the copyright. I would like to acquire the rights to the biography and edit it as needed, then publish some copies for the rest of my family (perhaps through Amazon). I’m planning to do an “all rights” purchase, but have a question about the copyright registration. After we sign an all rights transfer agreement, should I register the copyright under the friend’s name and then file a notice that it was transferred (I’ve seen this called an “Instrument of Recordation”)? Or should I simply file the copyright notice in my name without the notice of transfer?  Assuming by "all rights," you mean that the author will assign the copyright to you -- an "all rights" agreement typically means that all of the rights to a book or artwork or music are assigned permanently for a lump sum payment -- you can file an application to register the copyright as owner. In the application, you would list the family friend as author of the work and list yourself as owner (or "copyright claimant"). During the application process, you will see a statement " If any claimant is not an author, you must include a transfer statement ..." (a shot from the online application process is shown below), and you would choose "By written agreement" from the drop down choices.

Recording the assignment. In addition to registering the work, you can also record the assignment agreement with the Copyright Office. It's not necessary but it makes the document available for public inspection and can help establish priority of ownership rights if there is a dispute. The procedures for recording transfers are explained in this circular.

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