Copyright Release Agreements

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If you need to use an image or written work that is copyrighted by someone else, you might need a copyright release agreement. Such an agreement can give you the right to use a portion or all of a copyrighted work. On the other hand, failure to have such an agreement could lead to a lawsuit if the copyright holder disagrees with your use of his work.


The first section of the copyright release agreement identifies the parties to the contract. In many cases, these agreements are used by publishers that compile the works of many authors into a periodical journal. In this example, the release agreement would identify the publisher and the author -- the copyright holder -- in the first paragraph. The agreement would also identify the name of the copyrighted work.

Copyright Assignment

The next section of the release agreement will assign the copyrighted work to the publisher. This assignment may give the publisher the exclusive right to publish the article, or it may limit the publisher's right to use the work to a specific period of time. This section of the release agreement will also specify the author's rights, including whether the author is entitled to republish his work in other journals or publications.


As part of the copyright release agreement, the author will be required to warrant that the work is his own original work. This warranty will give the publisher the right to terminate its agreement with the author should it discover that he is not the original owner or copyright holder. Further, this warranty may cause the author -- if he is not the original author -- to be liable for any legal fees incurred by the publisher.


Many academic publishers do not compensate authors for allowing them to publish their work. The prestige of being published in such a journal is usually incentive enough for authors to sign a copyright release agreement. However, other publishers will compensate the author for the release of the publishing rights. This will be included in the release agreement, which will state whether the amount is to be paid in a lump sum or in installments.

Housekeeping Provisions

The last section of a copyright release agreement will include miscellaneous clauses often referred to as housekeeping provisions. These are important parts of the agreement that do not fit in other sections of the contract. For example, this final section of the contract may identify under which state's laws the contract should be construed. A provision for liquidated damages -- damages paid to the injured party in a contract breach -- might also be included in the housekeeping provisions. Following this section of the contract is a signature block that has room for each party to sign and date and a place for witnesses to sign, if necessary.


About the Author

Erika Waters is a business lawyer licensed to practice in California. She has experience working with nonprofits including Teach for America, as well as entrepreneurs and startups. Waters has contributed to several blogs, including the Business & Media Institute and other online publications and has worked as an editor for an academic publication.

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