Category Archives: Termination of Transfers

Authors Alliance Submits Brief Supporting Reversionary Rights in Canada

Posted December 10, 2018

photo by RonnyK | CC0

Canada’s Copyright Act, last updated in 2012 through the Copyright Modernization Act, is currently under review. In early 2018, Canada’s Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology adopted a work plan under which it is conducting a statutorily mandated review. Under this plan, the Committee invited written briefs from stakeholders. Today, Authors Alliance submitted a brief urging the retention of reversionary rights in Canada’s Copyright Act and recommending amendments to the provision that will enhance the utility of reversionary rights.

Under section 14(1) of Canada’s Copyright Act, any grant of interest in a copyrighted work made by an author (except for a grant made in a will) after June 4, 1921 automatically reverts to an author’s estate twenty-five years after an author’s death. Similar to the justifications for the termination of transfer provisions in U.S. law, the reversion mechanism is intended to address “a situation where a work, following the author’s death, had become more valuable over time,” giving the author’s heirs “the opportunity to re-negotiate the royalty terms to reflect the increased value of the work.”[1]

But reversionary rights also give creators the ability to give new life to works that have outlived their commercial lives but are nonetheless historically and culturally valuable. For creators who want their works to be widely shared and enjoyed, reversions are a powerful option for getting their works back out in front of audiences.

Because of the tremendous benefits of reversionary rights for authors and the public, Authors Alliance’s brief recommends retaining a reversionary right provision in the Copyright Act of Canada. To further maximize the benefits of the current provision, our brief also recommends several changes to Section 14(1):

  • Amending Section 14(1) to allow authors to terminate transfers of copyright a set number of years after the transfer of those rights;
  • Requiring triggering conditions and/or recordation of ownership information if rights are reverted exclusively to the author, while allowing reversion of non-exclusive rights to the author remain automatic; and
  • Amending Section 14(1) to make it clear that reversionary rights do not apply to non-exclusive licenses.

Read more about our recommendations by viewing the document below or clicking here to download the brief. For more about termination of transfer under U.S. law, visit the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons Termination of Transfer Tool at rightsback.org and the Authors Alliance termination of transfer resource page.

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[1] A.A. Keyes, Copyright in Canada Proposals for a Revision of the Law 76 (Apr. 1977).

Everything he does, he does it for us. Why Bryan Adams is on to something important about copyright

Posted September 26, 2018

The following post, by Authors Alliance founding member Rebecca Giblin, originally appeared in The Conversation under a CC-BY-ND license. Read more of Giblin’s work on the effects of copyright duration on creators in her recent paper, “A New Copyright Bargain? Reclaiming Lost Culture and Getting Authors Paid.”

Rebecca Giblin, Monash University

Last Tuesday Bryan Adams entered the copyright debate.

That’s Bryan Adams the singer and songwriter, the composer of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”, and “Summer of ’69”.

Authors, artists and composers often have little bargaining power, and are often pressured to sign away their rights to their publisher for life.

Adams appeared before a Canadian House of Commons committee to argue they should be entitled to reclaim ownership of their creations 25 years after they sign them away.

No control until after you are dead

In Canada they get them back 25 years after they are dead, when the rights automatically revert to their estate. In Australia our law used to do the same, but we removed the provision in 1968. In our law, authors are never given back what they give away.

Some publishers voluntarily put such clauses in their contracts, but that is something they choose to do, rather than something the law mandates.

Australia’s copyright term is long. For written works it lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. It was extended from 50 years after death as part of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.

What copyright is for

Copyright is a government-granted limited monopoly to control certain uses of an author’s work.

It is meant to achieve three main things: incentivise the creation of works, reward authors, and benefit society through access to knowledge and culture.

Incentive and reward are not the same thing.

The incentive needn’t be big

The copyright term needed to provide an incentive to create something is pretty short.

The Productivity Commission has estimated the average commercial life of a piece of music, for example is two to five years. Most pieces of visual art yield commercial income for just two years, with distribution highly skewed toward the small number with a longer life. The average commercial life of a film is three to six years. For books, it is typically 1.4 to five years; 90% of books are out of print after two years.

It is well accepted by economists that a term of about 25 years is the maximum needed to incentivise the creation of works.

But the rewards, for creators, should be

The second purpose is to provide a reward to authors, beyond the bare minimum incentive needed to create something. Quite reasonably, we want to give them a bit extra as thanks for their work.

But, in practice authors, artists and composers are often obliged to transfer all or most of their rights to corporate investors such as record labels or book publishers in order to receive anything at all.

In the film and television industries it is not unusual for creators to have to sign over their whole copyright, forever – and not just here on Earth but throughout the universe at large.


Read more: Life plus 70: who really benefits from copyright’s long life?

It means investors don’t just take what is needed to incentivise their work but most of the rewards meant for the author as well.

This isn’t new. Creators have been complaining since at least 1737 that too often they have no choice but to transfer their rights before anyone knows what they are worth.

Other countries do it better

In recognition of these realities, many countries, including the US, have enacted author-protective laws that, for example, let creators reclaim their rights back after a certain amount of time, or after publishers stop exploiting them, or after royalties stop flowing. Other laws guarantee creators “fair” or “reasonable” payment.

Australia stands out for having no author protections at all.


Read more: Australian copyright laws have questionable benefits

Canada’s law already protects authors by giving rights back to their heirs 25 years after they die. Bryan Adams’s proposal is to change one word in that law. Instead of copyright reverting to the creator 25 years after “death”, he wants it to revert 25 years after “transfer”.

Copyright is meant to be about ensuring access

Handing rights back to creators after 25 years would not only help them secure more of copyright’s rewards, it would also help achieve copyright’s other major aim: to promote widespread access to knowledge and culture.

Right now our law isn’t doing a very good job of that, particularly for older material.

Copyright lasts for so long, and distributors lose financial interest in works so fast, that they are often neither properly distributed nor available for anyone else to distribute.


Read more: Australian copyright reform stuck in an infinite loop

In the book industry my research into almost 100,000 titles has found that publishers license older e-books to libraries on the same terms and for the same prices as newer ones. That includes “exploding” licences which force books to be deleted from collections even if nobody ever borrows them.

Publishers are interested in maximising their share of library collections budgets, not ensuring that a particular author continues to get paid or a particular title continues to get read.

As a result libraries often forgo buying older (but still culturally valuable) books even though they would have bought them if the publisher cared enough to make them available at a reasonable price.

Restricting access to books is not in the interests of authors or readers.

…and directing rewards where they are needed

If rights reverted after 25 years, as I have proposed and as Adams now proposes, authors would be able to do things like license their books directly to libraries in exchange for fair remuneration – say $1 per loan.

If authors weren’t interested in reclaiming their rights, they could automatically default to a “cultural steward” that would use the proceeds to directly support new creators via prizes, fellowships and grants – much like Victor Hugo envisaged with his idea of a “paid public domain” back in 1878.

We could do it all without changing the total copyright term imposed on us by the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement and other treaties. We could get creators paid more fairly while keeping Australian culture alive.

Reversion is the key.The Conversation

Rebecca Giblin, ARC Future Fellow; Associate Professor, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Authors Alliance & Creative Commons Team Up for CopyTalk Webinar on Termination of Transfer

Posted August 29, 2018

On Thursday, September 6, Authors Alliance Executive Director Brianna Schofield will be joined by Diane Peters, General Counsel at Creative Commons, to present the American Library Association’s monthly CopyTalk webinar. The topic will be “Helping Authors Get Rights Back Through Termination of Transfers.”

Creators who enter into publishing agreements are often asked to sign away their copyrights before anyone knows their worth and in circumstances where they have little choice but to acquiesce. In the U.S., statutory termination of transfer provisions allow creators to regain copyrights they signed away decades ago. With rights back in hand, creators can get their works in front of new audiences by, for example, sharing their works using Creative Commons licenses or by negotiating new agreements with publishers. In this CopyTalk, Authors Alliance and Creative Commons will showcase our Termination of Transfer tool at rightsback.org and related resources that help authors understand and exercise termination of transfer rights.

This free webinar will take place at 2:00 PM Eastern / 11:00 AM Pacific. For more information and to register, visit the CopyTalk event page. We hope you’ll join in for this important discussion of authors’ rights!

Authors Alliance Supports Consideration of Termination of Transfer Provisions in South Africa

Posted May 16, 2018

photo by Martina79 | CC0

The Parliament of the Republic of South Africa is currently considering the Copyright Amendment Bill, an update of the country’s 1978 copyright legislation. The proposed bill includes a provision for termination of transfers. Today, we submitted a letter to South Africa’s Members of Parliament in support of a carefully drafted termination provision that would allow authors to regain rights that they previously signed away.

Termination of transfer is a key issue for Authors Alliance. Rightsback.org, our online termination of transfer tool, was created in conjunction with Creative Commons and released in October 2017. It’s designed to help authors learn more about termination of transfer and how to evaluate whether a work is eligible for termination under U.S. law. Creative Commons is taking this effort a step further, having just released a beta version of the Rights Back Resource, which will compile resources about regaining rights in various countries.

Allowing creators to revisit decisions to transfer their copyrights is beneficial to authors and to the public. The opportunity to recapture rights allows creators to renegotiate contracts and enjoy more of their works’ financial success, or to give new life to works that have outlived their commercial lives by releasing them to the public on open terms. That’s why we support the adoption of termination of transfer provisions and similar rights in South Africa and around the world. As we state in our letter, such laws must be carefully crafted in order to fully maximize their potential and guard against unintended consequences, such as an increase in the number of orphan works.

The full text of the letter is available below. We will continue to track the progress of the legislation and provide updates as they become available.

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Creative Commons Summit Builds Momentum for Strengthening Author Rights

Posted May 8, 2018

We would like to thank Creative Commons General Counsel Diane Peters for contributing the following post, which originally appeared on the Creative Commons blog on May 7 under a CC-BY license.


The Creative Commons 2018 Global Summit in Toronto brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to explore strategies for increasing author choices for managing their copyright, and included the announcement of the new Creative Commons Rights Back Resource (beta) that will provide authors worldwide with information about how to regain copyright previously assigned away.

To facilitate momentum on the tool, Creative Commons, SPARC Europe and Authors Alliance convened an in-depth workshop involving more than 60 attendees focused on Giving Authors Control: How to Retain and Regain Your Copyright.

sparc-europeVanessa Proudman, Director of SPARC Europe, framed the workshop looking at the current context, goals and challenges with rights management. She shared ten prerequisites for making open the default, and talked of how the community might best enable open for academics and readers. Among other highlights, she provided an overview of funder and government mandates for open access and identified key goals and challenges to enable open.

authors-allianceBrianna Schofield, Executive Director of Authors Alliance, highlighted and explained existing legal tools that help authors make sound publication decisions and regain control of their works, sharing thoughts on the value of doing so in support of authors making their works available in the ways they want. She explained the complicated nature of termination rights that authors have in the United States and resources that Creative Commons and Authors Alliance have developed to help them navigate those provisions. Michael Wolfe, formerly of Authors Alliance and now at the University of California, Davis, gave a live demonstration of how the www.rightsback.org termination of transfer tool can help authors determine whether they have reversionary rights.

Creative Commons logoDiane Peters, General Counsel of Creative Commons, described CC’s work in open access in support of a more vibrant and usable commons. She focused on work, generously funded by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, to develop improved authors addenda that authors can use to retain some rights to their scholarly articles when submitting to traditional, non-OA publishers. She also announced the launch of a new legal tool under development and funded by Arcadia, the Rights Back Resource (beta). Authors and those who support them, such as librarians, will be able to consult the resource to understand reversionary and termination rights around the world.

Session attendees then broke into three working groups to conduct deep dives, exploring three important areas: knowledge gaps and what authors should know if they want to help change current open access practices by retaining rights; existing and future advocacy tools and campaigns that can affect real change in the OA ecosystem; and strategies for overcoming publisher obstacles to author tools. A complete list of resources, speaker presentations, and notes from the breakout working groups may be found here.

WHAT’S NEXT

The three organizations plan to continue coordinating their respective efforts on new and existing legal tools, outreach, education and advocacy. This will include focusing on tangible ways to push ahead on ideas generated during the CC Summit session.

Creative Commons also welcomes contributions to the new international Rights Back Resource (beta). We need experts to identify and contribute information about reversionary and termination rights around the world. Our goal is provide a comprehensive resource where authors can learn about rights they may have to retake control over publication rights to their works that they previously assigned away. Please join CC in this effort and contribute information here.

We are also working on updates to the Scholars Copyright Addendum Engine and the addenda templates found there. An open questionnaire will be published soon with the goal of learning more about the needs and preferred terms of addenda to be used by scholars, authors and academics.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our Summit session! We look forward to seeing your contributions.

Who Owns the Termination of Transfer Right?

Posted November 1, 2017

We would like to thank R. Anthony Reese, Chancellor’s Professor of Law at UC Irvine, for contributing the following post.

Head shot of R. Anthony ReeseU.S. copyright law gives an author the right, under certain conditions, to terminate a copyright transfer or license that the author granted decades earlier, as Lydia Loren’s earlier post explained. This termination right must be exercised within a specific time, and the formal termination process can’t begin until 25 years after the author executes the grant.

Given this long delay, who can terminate if the author dies before the time for termination arrives? The basic answer is fairly straightforward. If the deceased author left only a surviving spouse (whom the statute names as the author’s “widow or widower”), then the spouse can exercise the termination right. If the deceased author left only surviving kids, then the kids can exercise the termination right. If the author left a surviving spouse and kids, then the spouse and kids share the termination right. (Other situations are more complicated: if the author left any surviving grandkids of a deceased child, those grandkids get to share in the termination right as well.) Only if the author left no surviving spouse, kids, or grandkids does the author’s will (or the law of intestate succession) determine who owns the termination right.

This aspect of termination has always created problems for gay and lesbian authors with same-sex partners. Because the termination right belongs to a deceased author’s “widow or widower,” copyright law must determine who qualifies as the author’s spouse. In doing so, copyright law has treated gay and lesbian authors with same-sex partners less favorably than authors with different-sex partners ever since the copyright act first allowed termination in 1978.

The statute defines an author’s “widow” or “widower,” using facially neutral language, as “the author’s surviving spouse under the law of the author’s domicile at the time of his or her death.” 17 U.S.C. § 101. This definition doesn’t expressly distinguish between same-sex and different-sex spouses. In practice, though, in deciding which marriages copyright law will recognize, this definition has always treated authors with same-sex partners unequally, because it incorporates unequal treatment embedded in state law, in federal non-copyright law, and in foreign law.

An author’s widow or widower for copyright termination purposes is the author’s surviving spouse under the law of the deceased author’s domicile. In the U.S., the author’s place of domicile is generally the state where the author resides. But from 1978 until 2004, no U.S. state allowed same-sex couples to marry. As a result, no same-sex partner of a gay or lesbian author could qualify as a widow or widower entitled to termination rights. (Indeed, before 1998, an author whose partner did not qualify as a surviving spouse could not even designate that partner in the author’s will as the person who could exercise the termination right.)

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Grappling With The Most Notoriously Complex Provision in U.S. Copyright Law

Posted October 26, 2017

Erica Row, Julia Wu, Pam Samuelson, Mike Wolfe, Eric Malmgren, and Jack Lerner

The following guest post was written by Julia Wu and Eric Malmgren, students at the Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic at UC Irvine Law. We’re grateful to the clinic students and to their director, Jack Lerner, for all their work in reviewing the Termination of Transfer tool.

The law on termination of copyright transfers is complicated—really complicated. As members of the research team tasked with “vetting” the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons Termination of Transfer Tool, we became acutely aware of just how intricate, technical, and downright maddening this area of law can be.

In 2016, Authors Alliance approached the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic for help launching the Termination of Transfer Tool (“ToT Tool”), an online resource to educate authors about termination of transfers and roughly estimate whether a work is eligible for a termination. They wanted to ensure that the ToT Tool correctly applied the law to estimate copyright duration and the timeframes during which a termination of transfer could be executed.

It’s a cliché, but in this case it fits perfectly: we were thrown into the deep end of the pool, and we had to learn quickly how to swim. Together with fellow clinic member Erica Row, Professor Jack Lerner, and our friends at the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at Colorado Law, we immersed ourselves in §§ 203 and 304 of the Copyright Act, relevant case law, and treatises such as Nimmer on Copyright.

After extensive research, our team met to map out the logical steps needed to determine whether a given work would likely be eligible for a termination of transfer.  Our goal was to create a set of binary (yes-no) questions and simple equations that would reliably predict whether a termination right likely existed and when it could be exercised. UCI law students standing next to an outline of the ToT toolSeveral of these questions were derived from the Copyright Act, such as whether the copyright was assigned through a last will and testament. If so, it cannot be terminated.  Others depended on factors found in important court decisions, such as CCNV v. Reid, which provided guidance as to whether a given work is a “work made for hire” and thus ineligible for termination. Our “map” of termination law became a flowchart the length of a large UCI Law classroom.

The most basic analysis of whether a transferred copyrighted work is eligible for termination requires four main dates: the date of the work’s creation, the date of the work’s publication (if applicable), the date of copyright registration (if applicable), and the date of the transfer or assignment. There are ninety-three years between the relevant years of 1923 and 2016. Multiplying ninety-three by itself four times (i.e., 934) results in 74,805,201 possible combinations of those four dates.  In light of the millions of possibilities, a flowchart on a whiteboard—no matter how big—would not allow us to evaluate enough scenarios to verify that the ToT Tool accurately analyzed transfer eligibility, so we developed a spreadsheet that mirrored the ToT Tool’s functionality and could be used as an independent verification method—essentially, a parallel tool. As we discovered new and sometimes minor nuances of the termination provisions, we devised ways to address them within the spreadsheet. Over time, our spreadsheet grew more and more intricate.

We found that rather than attempt to review all 75+ million date combinations, we could focus on dates that corresponded to important changes in U.S. copyright law, like January 1, 1978, the date the 1976 Copyright Act went into effect. With these significant dates in mind, we created a list of date combinations that would likely reveal whether the ToT Tool and our spreadsheet correctly addressed the nuances of the termination provisions.

Our work culminated in an afternoon in which we trained fourteen other students in the UCI IPAT Clinic on the use of the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons ToT Tool, and gave each one a list of date combinations to enter into both the Tool and our spreadsheet. Members of the IPAT Clinic processed hundreds of the highest-priority date combinations that we could identify. We gathered the results and analyzed any discrepancies to determine whether the ToT Tool or our spreadsheet accurately predicted the correct outcome. We also met and talked numerous times with Authors Alliance’s then-Executive Director Mike Wolfe, and Professor Pamela Samuelson.

Termination of copyright transfers is a complex and sometimes unsettled area of the law. For the first time ever, the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons Termination of Transfer Tool makes what has been an arcane and inscrutable area of the law accessible to everyone.  We are incredibly proud to have contributed to this effort.

Use the Termination of Transfer Tool, read the materials, and if you think you may have a work eligible for a termination of transfer, speak with an attorney who can help you get your rights back.


Eric Malmgren and Julia Wu are J.D. Candidates at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. During the 2016-2017 academic year, they were Certified Law Students in the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic. 

The Termination Right and Authors’ Human Rights

Posted October 18, 2017

We are delighted to feature the following guest post by Professor Graeme Austin of Victoria University of Wellington (NZ) and Melbourne University (Australia).

Headshot of Graeme AustinIf people think of “international copyright law” at all, they probably think of the IP chapters in international trade agreements.  These agreements are mostly about economic links between groups of countries. Protecting copyrights, along with other kinds of IP, is the quid pro quo for access to commodity markets and markets for services.  The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) brought copyright squarely into the world trade regime with the requirement that World Trade Organization members must protect copyrights up to certain minimum standards.

But there’s a whole other side to the rights of authors that many people don’t know about: international human rights law.  In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) announced: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” A similar guarantee appears in the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (1948). Authors’ rights are also included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which came into force in 1976.  “Material interests” means financial support: the ability to earn an income from creative work.  “Moral interests” spring from the emotional and spiritual connections between creators and their works. They can be given force through legal prohibitions against subjecting works to certain kinds of derogatory treatment or prohibitions against failing to name the author of a work when it is released to the public.

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Why is an Author Able to Terminate a Transfer of Copyright?

Posted October 17, 2017

We are grateful to Professor Lydia Pallas Loren of Lewis & Clark School of Law for contributing the following guest post.

Headshot of Lydia LorenThe U.S. Copyright Act is clear: Authors have a right to terminate a transfer of their copyrights 35 years after they have signed on the dotted line.* That right to terminate cannot be waived, nor is there any way to “contract around” it. It does not matter if the contract purports to assign the copyright for “the entire term of copyright” or “in perpetuity” or if the contract prohibits any attempts at termination. Why did Congress include this significant, unwaivable right in its comprehensive revision of the Copyright Act?

Some assert that the reason for the termination rights is paternalistic—it seeks to protect authors who, in general, lack business acumen. By providing authors with an ability to recapture their copyrights, the law gives authors, who need government protection, a second bite of the apple. But, if authors on a whole lack business acumen, what makes us think the author would be any better at obtaining a deal on more favorable terms 35 years later?

In fact, the evidence points in another direction to explain Congress’ decision. Congress recognized that often transfers of copyright are entered into before the authors have solid information from which to assess the value of the copyrighted work. This puts the author in what Congress called an “unequal bargaining position.” After 35 years has passed, they should have more information about the work’s value, and that would be an appropriate time to allow the author to enter into a new bargain, based on a better assessment of the value of the work. In other words, Congress viewed the termination right as a way for authors to obtain compensation at a level that more accurately reflects the true value of their works.

For the author who sold their copyright for a pittance and the work turned out to be a blockbuster, termination can play out the way Congress thought it might. But the termination right is not just about money. For an author who thinks her publisher has not done enough to market the book and that explains its lackluster sales, terminating that transfer allows the author to seek out a new publisher. For the author whose work has failed to gain a commercially viable audience, but whose work has noncommercial value, such as for research, terminating the transfer allows the author to seek out a new “home” for that copyrighted work. Once the copyright has been recaptured by the author, that new home might be with a new publisher, or it might in the public domain (through a dedication to the public), or on an open access platform.

Armed with the information gained about the appeal of the work over the 35 year period in which the copyright was owned by someone else, Congress provided the author with a way to renegotiate the deal. And that is precisely what Congress intended when it created the termination right.


* Note that the timing of the termination right can vary depending on the circumstances and the date of the contract—see the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons Termination of Transfer tool for more information.

Lydia Pallas Loren is Henry J. Casey Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Professor Loren is the author of Renegotiating the Copyright Deal in the Shadow of the ‘Inalienable’ Right to Terminate.

How the Rightsback.org Termination of Transfer Tool Helps Authors

Posted October 12, 2017

The following is a guest post by Luke Ewing, student attorney at the Colorado Law Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic. We’d like to thank Luke and his classmates Sean Doran and Andi Wilt, and their supervisor Blake Reid, at Colorado Law; and law students Eric Malmgren, Erica Row, and Julia Wu, and their supervisor Jack Lerner, at UC Irvine Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic for their assistance with the development of the Termination of Transfer tool and templates.

Erica Row, Julia Wu, Pamela Samuelson, Mike Wolfe, Eric Malmgren, and Jack Lerner (not pictured: Sean Doran, Luke Ewing, Andi Wilt, and Blake Reid)

Yesterday, Authors Alliance and Creative Commons released the Termination of Transfer tool at rightsback.org. You may be wondering what the tool does and how termination helps authors. Along with many other beta testers, student attorneys at the Colorado Law Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic and the UC-Irvine Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic helped verify that the tool accurately reflects the state of termination law. We scoured statutes, regulations, and case history to determine what is required to make the termination process go smoothly under a wide range of circumstances. We also tested the tool to ensure that its results accurately reflect the current state of the law. Finally, we drafted a standardized form and written guidance that make the paperwork simple once an author decides to exercise their termination right.

Authors who assigned their copyrights many years ago may feel that their works are being underutilized or misrepresented, or they may want to renegotiate their earlier agreements. Fortunately, Congress devised a mechanism by which authors can take back those rights. This is a critical opportunity for authors who made less-than-advantageous deals early in their careers, saw their works become unavailable when a publisher went bankrupt, or want to release their works into the public domain or under an open access license. But because the window for termination opens decades after that original transfer of rights and requires navigating a particularly difficult and complex area of copyright law, exercising termination rights can be daunting.

Termination windows are determined by three separate subsections of the Copyright Act (§ 203, 304(c), and 304(d)), the format and instructions for notifying the Copyright Office are spelled out in a list of very particular regulations, and each subsection of the Copyright Act yields a different list of regulations. Determining whether the window is open for a copyrighted work, or which subsection applies, depends on a number of variables, including:

  • Was it published?
  • If so, when was it published?
  • When were rights transferred?
  • Did those rights include the right of publication?
  • Has the agreement already been renegotiated?
  • Were there multiple authors involved, and do they all agree to terminating the transfer?
  • Are all the authors still alive?
  • And more.

Every one of these questions is relevant, and every answer leads down different branches of a decision tree that indicates whether, when, and how an author may exercise termination rights rights. Without help, trying to understand these rights can be tedious and discouraging.

The tool makes understanding the process easy.  It knows which questions to ask and what to do with the answers to those questions. Within minutes, the tool helps authors better understand how termination of transfer works. Congress intended for authors to exercise these rights, and Authors Alliance wants to simplify the process by removing as much confusion and uncertainty as possible. If you want to learn more about taking back the rights to your work, or are just curious about the process, you can try out the tool right now. It’s free, simple, and only takes a few minutes.

And if you decide to exercise your termination rights, check out our termination of transfer resource page for notice of termination templates and instructions on how to notify the Copyright Office as well as any relevant parties.