Chapter 4

Copyright and Digital Cultural Heritage: Authorship and Ownership of Copyright Works

Written by Ronan Deazley, April 2017

For many, the very raison d’etre of copyright lies in recognising and rewarding the efforts of authors who create literary, artistic and other types of work by conferring certain economic rights in relation to those works. However, authorship and ownership are two discrete, albeit related, concepts.

The author of a work and the owner of the copyright in that work need not be the same person. While the authorship of a work will never change, the ownership of copyright in that work may initially vest in the author but might change hands many times while the work is in copyright. In this respect, copyright is like any other form of property: while the copyright subsists, it can be bought and sold, or passed from one generation to the next, such that the work might have had many different owners before the copyright term expires. Also, depending on the circumstances, the author of a work may never have owned the copyright in the work she created. It is important then to be able to determine who authored a work and whether that person has any proprietary claim over the copyright in the work they have created.

In this commentary, we consider these two related concepts in copyright law: the authorship and ownership of copyright work.

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