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.


  1. Susie
    January 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Thank you so much for including these in the digitization of copyright records. I would love to see them linked to any and all documents related to the title they represent, possibly as a link within the main copyright record. However, just to have them available in a user-friendly format will be a significant improvement over not being able to find them at all.

  2. Jodi
    January 27, 2012 at 9:38 am

    i love this post. thank you. it’s most useful.

  3. Sharad Shah
    January 30, 2012 at 7:31 am

    This is an an excellent question. Having spoken with some of the staffers involved in the digization of the catalogs, I can see where that’s a relatively quick and easy process. However, it’s kind of like reading the revised notes to a text without reading the original text. However, the information on the original may prove somewhat obsolete in light of amendments. I think performing a search on the original record trumps the cards if only because there could be works with the same title, but any description/information on the original record would help researchers to verify that that particular record is the one they are seeking.

  4. Peter
    February 12, 2012 at 4:33 am

    I can’t see that the index cards contain data that is not on the original document. And I don’t see that it should be a priority to identify what works a particular assignee may have owned at any particular time. It is the work that matters. Therefore I would suggest that registration and renewal records be linked to relevant ownership documents. If you have this material in PDF form, you should be able to do that almost instantly with your current catalog by adding 856 links to the records in Voyager. A script could automate the process of updating the records.

    This should be a high priority for you. There is no need for you to be digitizing the CCE since it has been done and is available through the HathiTrust. What would be useful is to confirm that all volumes have been scanned and then make a “public community” of those volumes to facilitate searching. Extract the data you want and add it to your existing catalog. Don’t engage in the “not invented here” syndrome. Just because you are late to the game doesn’t mean that you need to start from the beginning using your own obsolete card files and systems. Build instead on the innovative work that others have done.

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