Arthur R. Lehman, L.L.C.

Who owns a copyright in a contribution to a collective work?

When a New York business owner is running a magazine, newspaper or a periodical, they have a number of people contributing stories, articles and pictures to their work. In fact, in a city as diverse as New York, everyone has an interesting story or anecdote to share. In these situations, it is important to ascertain who owns the copyright in this work because the completed work is only a collection of work.

Under copyright law, two separate copyrights exist in this situation-a copyright in the published collective work and a copyright in the separate contribution. The person who has made this contribution may be able to register a copyright in this separate work. But what happens if they don't? Who owns the copyright in the contribution to the collective work?

If the author of the work has not expressly transferred the right to that individual article, the copyright holder of the collective work is assumed to only hold the right to use the contribution in the collective work and in subsequent revisions and editions.

Protecting intellectual property rights is essential to encourage a creative atmosphere as it gives creators the freedom to assume their intellectual works will be protected. But in situations such as this, where their work is going to be part of a collection, it is possible to innocently misuse someone's work and create legal challenges as business owners try to determine the extent to which they may legally use someone else's work. An experienced intellectual property rights owner may be able to clarify the finer details of the law for New York residents.

Source: Copyright.gov, "Contribution to collective work," Accessed on Nov. 24, 2015

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