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Re: Effect of transfer of copyright on free software licenses?

From: Tim Smith
Subject: Re: Effect of transfer of copyright on free software licenses?
Date: Sun, 19 Jul 2009 18:26:06 -0700
User-agent: MT-NewsWatcher/3.5.3b2 (Intel Mac OS X)

In article <xDM8m.53010$9P.38302@newsfe08.iad>,
 Hyman Rosen <> wrote:

> Tim Smith wrote:
> > Industry practice overrides a statutory requirement for a signature?
> I think so. In any case, there is also 17 USC 203:
> <>
>      (3) Termination of the grant may be effected at any time during
>      a period of five years beginning at the end of thirty-five years
>      from the date of execution of the grant; or, if the grant covers
>      the right of publication of the work, the period begins at the
>      end of thirty-five years from the date of publication of the work
>      under the grant or at the end of forty years from the date of
>      execution of the grant, whichever term ends earlier.
>      (4) The termination shall be effected by serving an advance notice
>      in writing, signed by the number and proportion of owners of
>      termination interests required under clauses (1) and (2) of this
>      subsection, or by their duly authorized agents, upon the grantee
>      or the grantee's successor in title.
>         (A) The notice shall state the effective date of the termination,
>         which shall fall within the five-year period specified by clause
>         (3) of this subsection, and the notice shall be served not less
>         than two or more than ten years before that date. A copy of the
>         notice shall be recorded in the Copyright Office before the
>         effective date of termination, as a condition to its taking effect.
>         (B) The notice shall comply, in form, content, and manner of service,
>         with requirements that the Register of Copyrights shall prescribe by
>         regulation.
> So even if copyright of a GPLed work is transferred to a second party,
> that second party is going to have a very long time to wait to rescind
> the GPL, even assuming I'm wrong about the signature requirement being
> waived.

Section 203 really doesn't have anything to do with section 205. Section 
203 describes a right that the author has to terminate a grant at the 
specified time. Basically, if you, an author, license your work to 
someone, or even sell the copyright outright to them, you eventually 
have a right under section 203 to terminate that--even if you agreed not 
to by contract.

The purpose of this, and similar provisions in early versions of the 
copyright law, is to protect authors from bad deals when they are 
unknown, and have little negotiating power.

The termination rights under 203 are only for the author, or if the 
author his dead, his heirs. If the author sells his copyright to party 
B, and party B sells the copyright to party C, party B would not be able 
to use 203 to get the copyrights back after 35 years. The author could.

The use case for section 205 is something like this. Copyright owner A 
assigns his copyright on his play to party B. A few days later, A gives 
party C a non-exclusive license to stage a production of the play. Can C 
stage the play? (It depends on whether B recorded the assignment before 
A gave C the non-exclusive license. If B hadn't recorded, and C acted in 
good faith, C's non-exclusive license stands).

--Tim Smith

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