"Did I mutter, or stutter?" Said the author, arriving at the desk of the publisher. "I said I want my copyright back. "
"Well," said H.J. Henry, "You can't have it back. You transferred it to us back in 1981, when you were the naive and starstruck song writer that you were, what was it, 23?"
The author retorted "yes, and I didn't know any better then. I am fifty now, and I know that you've made millions off my work."
"Too bad," said Henry. "It's ours."
Not so fast. Our now-wisened bard has a safety net that was built into the copyright law.
§ 203. Termination of transfers and licenses granted by the author (read it here)
Conditions for Termination. — In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978...Termination of the grant may be effected at any time during a period of five years beginning at the end of thirty-five years from the date of execution of the grant;...The termination shall be effected by serving an advance notice in writing...The notice shall state the effective date of the termination, which shall fall within the five-year period....A copy of the notice shall be recorded in the Copyright Office before the effective date of termination, as a condition to its taking effect...Termination of the grant may be effected notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, including an agreement to make a will or to make any future grant...Upon the effective date of termination, all rights under this title that were covered by the terminated grants revert to the author...So, if you're a creative, whether it's photography, music, illustrations, text authors, or others, you can turn back the clock - in a way - and undo the transfer of your copyright.
"But I signed a work-made-for-hire agreement", you say.
Why do you think that almost all contracts that have WMFH in them, which reads:
each of the images created is a "work for hire" under the Copyright Act;Has as a direct follow on:
"...and to the extent that the images are not deemed to be a "work for hire" under the Copyright Act by a court of competent jurisdiction, Photographer hereby assigns all right, title and interest in and to the Assignment Photos to AP, including all copyrights and any other rights in law or equity (including but not limited to other derivative works of any kind, made by any method or technology known or invented hereafter, derived from the images."It's because of what can statuatorily be considered a WMFH. The statute that defines copyright appears in Section 101 of the Copyright law. In it are enumerated several tests to determine if your work is even eligible to be considered a work-made-for-hire. They are:
1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment;The only category that the image might fall into would be "a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work", but that's not really going to fly.
2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work
3) as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work,
4) as a translation,
5) as a supplementary work,
6) as a compilation,
7) as an instructional text,
8) as a test,
9) as answer material for a test,
10) or as an atlas,
if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. For the purpose of the foregoing sentence, a “supplementary work” is a work prepared for a publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes; and an “instruc-
tional text” is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities.
Creative Commons has created a CC Termination of Transfer Tool, you can read a great deal more about this in the Copyright Office's Circular #9, Copylaw.com has an article on How Authors (and their Heirs) Can Recapture their Pre-1978 Copyrights, and Lawrence Lessig wrote a blog post - Are you ready to "terminate"?, and Creative Commons also has a FAQ on the provisions thats worth a read. Fortham Law Review discusses this as it applied to Superman (and others), in this article, and the Copyright Office, in preparation for the coming tide of termination requests, wrote about it here.
So, there' more to learn about the copyright laws, and how it affects you. Consider what's written here, and linked here. Then, if you even think you created work back then, talk to a good IP lawyer about how to work though getting your work back. If you have work that was created even as late at 1988, you can file a notice - up to ten years in advance - of your intent to recoup your copyright. This law is like your Oil of Olay, but while it can't clear up those brow lines and crows' feet like that salve can, it can give you back those lost pieces of yourself that you sold when you were young an innocent, and didn't know any better.
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