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Rights transfer

4 min read

What is a rights transfer?

Rights transfer means passing on ownership of rights to a third party.

What is a rights transfer? 

In the music industry, rights transfer is the process of passing on or in a , , or to a third party.

A rights transfer results in the other party becoming the in addition to or instead of the original rights holder. For example, often transfer their rights to , and often transfer their rights to .

Only who are rights holders can transfer those rights to third parties, normally as part of their publishing agreements with music publishers or recording agreements with record labels. So, once you have transferred all or some of your rights to a third party, you can no longer exercise those rights yourself, but you are typically entitled to receiving income from your music publisher or record label.

What is a buyout? 

Buyouts are transactions that transfer full ownership of the copyright of a musical work or sound recording. They involve the of all rights and this means that assignees can use the musical works or sound recordings in any way they choose, including distributing, licensing, selling, or modifying them.

Original rights holders relinquish their rights typically for a one-off fee and do not earn any further income from the use of the musical works or sound recordings.

Buyouts are used when the assignee wants to have complete control over the musical work or sound recording. This is often the case when used in a commercial project, such as a movie, television show, or video game, enabling such producers to effectively acquire the necessary rights to exploit the final work. But if such producers don't need complete control over the musical work or sound recording, they can explore other options, like obtaining or licenses.

Find out more on the Licensing Types page.

When rights holders sell their through a buyout, they still retain the granted by .

Learn more about these rights on the Copyrights and Related Rights page.

What is work for hire? 

Work for hire is an arrangement that automatically grants ownership of musical works, performances, or sound recordings made under an employment contract to the employer rather than the creator.

How work for hire applies can be different from country to country. For instance, in some countries, the person who hired under an employment contract will automatically own the work made by the session musicians. But in some other countries, the work for hire contract must be written to clearly say the rights will belong to the employer who hired the session musicians.

Work for hire scenarios 

and, in particular, , may be hired and commissioned to write music for use in a commercial project such as a movie, TV show, or video game. In such a case, the employer who hired or commissioned them could own the copyright of the musical works they have created and would be able to use them without having to go back to creators and ask for permission, similar to a buyout.

Another common scenario is for session musicians and to be hired to perform and make a sound recording. They could be paid a for their work. They could also be required to sign an agreement stating that they don't own the sound recordings and that they will not be entitled to future income from the use of the sound recordings.

Unlike buyouts, work for hire agreements are concluded before the musical work or sound recording is created. Under work for hire, the employer automatically becomes the rights holder without needing a rights transfer.

More information about creators is found in our Songwriting Roles and Recording Roles topics.


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Image credit: Martin Fabricius Rasmussen