Termination Rights For Copyright Licenses

Photographers often agree to bad deals early in their careers. Thanks to the Copyright Act, photographers may be able to minimize the damages from those decisions.

Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act allows copyright owners (and their heirs) to terminate all grants, licenses or transfers of rights that were made prior to 1978 beginning the 56th year after the license was made. The requirements to terminate a grant, license or transfer of any copyright must be strictly followed. The photographer must provide at least two years and no more than ten years’ written notice to the person to whom the grant was made. That notice also must be filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. Similarly, grants, licenses or transfers made after 1977 may be terminated during a five-year period beginning 35 years after the grant was made.

The termination provisions do not apply to works for hire, so publishers and other users of photography are increasingly characterizing photography jobs that way. While you may agree to accept those consequences, you first should understand the rights that you are giving away.

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