With three important exceptions, copyrights are owned by the writers, poets, musicians, choreographers, composers, artists, software designers, sculptors, photographers, movie producers, craftspersons and other persons who create them. In the copyright world, these people are all called “authors.”
Now for the exceptions:
If a work is created by an employee in the course of his or her employment, the work is called a “work made for hire” and the copyright is owned by the employer.
If the work is commissioned (created by an author working as an independent contractor), and the parties sign a written work made for hire agreement, the copyright will be owned by the commissioning party as long as the work falls within one of the statutory categories of commissioned works that can qualify as works made for hire.
If the author sells the copyright to someone else, the purchasing person or business owns the copyright.
Related terms: agency (for the purpose of determining works made for hire); author, defined; author as owner of copyright; coauthors; copyright owner, defined; work made for hire, defined.