Assignments and transfers: The other Copyright records

A few weeks ago I posted examples of pre-1978 Copyright registration records.  There’s an equally important set of companion records reflecting the assignments and transfers of rights that were recorded in the Copyright Office between 1870 and 1977.  Indexed and filed separately from the registrations, these records must be consulted to see the full picture of ownership for any particular work.  During the 108 year period there were approximately 350,000 assignment/transfer documents recorded containing about 1.7 million titles.

The records are of two types: copies of the original documents and finding aids in the form of catalog cards.  After being recorded the original document was returned to the party who requested recordation, but the Copyright Office retained a copy of the document.  From 1870 to 1927 the copy was a handwritten or typewritten transcription in a record book.  From 1927 to 1953, photostat copies were made and bound into record books.  After 1953 the Office made microfilm copies.  The following are examples of recorded documents.  Click on any of the thumbnails below to see a larger image.

Assignment/Transfer document

Assignment/Transfer document

Assignment/Transfer document


The documents had no prescribed format but frequently took the form of a contract.  The Copyright Office has microfilm copies of all recorded documents as well as PDF derivative copies.

The official copies of the recorded documents are filed by the assigned number which is made up of the record book number or microfilm number followed by the page number.  Specific documents are located through a search of the catalog cards.  There are about 2.5 million cards that make up the indexes to the documents.  A card was created for every title included in a document (about 1.7 million) and a card for each party (assignors and assignees) to a document (about 800 thousand).  Names are filed separately from titles and until 1941 assignors were filed separately from assignees.  Titles were not indexed prior to 1928 although they frequently appear on the assignor and assignee cards.  While there were some changes made in the formats over the years, the data fields are labeled and it is easy to distinguish the type of card.  The following are examples of the cards.

Assignment/Transfer title cards:

Assignor cards:

Assignee Cards:


The labeling of the data fields on the cards and the separate filing of names and titles will facilitate the data capture and enable indexing that’s consistent with current online post-1977 assignment records.  For those looking for ownership information online, these records would be a useful complement to the Catalog of Copyright Entries that we are currently digitizing and making available via the Internet Archive website at

Please let us know how you would prefer to see these records made available online and whether you’d want to see us do it sooner or later relative to the registration records.  Your input is important and most appreciated.

How would you search Copyright records? — Building a system with you in mind

Copyright records serve a variety of information needs from finding the current owner of a work to a survey of cultural development in the United States. Users of the records approach them in different ways depending on their particular need at the moment. Similarly, there are different approaches to how we can make the currently …

Read more »

What we’re hearing. – Some feedback on your comments

During the first 6 weeks of this blog’s existence we’ve received many thoughtful and helpful comments from visitors.  Your comments are being carefully studied and used as input to decision making about what records to work on first and how to capture, index and make them available.  Optical character recognition (OCR) and crowd sourcing have …

Read more »