Assuming I create some artwork. Now I create copies or derivatives of that artwork (which, if they were made by someone else, would infringe on my copyright) and sell some and keep others.

Now, at a later date, I transfer all rights associated with the copyright to someone else.

  1. Does that in any way affect copies I've already sold (or their owners) in any way? Can the new owner of the rights in anyway prevent the owners of the copies from reselling their copies?

  2. As the owner of some of the copies/derivatives that have been created before transferring the rights, am I still allowed to use/sell these copies?

Assuming all parties are US citizen located in the US.

2 Answers 2


Each transfer of an artwork could be considered a contract, even if there is nothing in writing or perhaps even nothing said. The usual assumption would be that you transfer the physical object, not your copyright, unless that is explicitly included. No different from buying a book in a bookstore and giving it to someone as a birthday present, really.

When you then sell your copyright (the exact nature of that transfer depends on the jurisdiction), it is up to you not to make any promises you cannot keep -- not to sell anything twice, not to promise to turn in previous copies if you no longer own them, not to represent or imply that no such copies exist.


When you sell (or give away. or otherwise transfer) a copyright, what you are selling is the right to make or approve the making of future copies, and future derivative works, and the right to all the other things that a copyright holder may do, in the future. You may also be selling the right to collect future royalties on publication arrangements already made, if any. You are not selling the right to re-approve copies already made and distributed, because you do not have that right. Under the first sale doctrine, the purchaser of a physical object embodying a copy of a protected work (such as a copy of a book, or a print of a painting, or a DVD of a video) has the right to posses or transfer that object, by sale, or rental, or lending, or gift, as s/he may please. The copyright holder may not restrict this right, nor charge for it beyond the sale price of the object.

So the answers to your specific questions are:

  1. No. The owner of the copies has the same rights after the sale of the copyright as s/he did before that sale.

  2. Yes, you may still retain, and sell, rent, lend or give away those copies, unless you include them in the sale of the copyright, or add a provision to your agreement of transfer limiting those rights, which you may do if you wish (presumably for an extra payment). Such an agreement is not typical.

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