Section 202 of the U.S. Copyright Act, 1976 clarifies that ownership of a copyright and ownership of the object over which a person has copyright are two distinct rights. The transfer of one right does not automatically transfer the other right. For example, an author does not transfer his/her copyright ownership when s/he transfers a copy of the book to another person. The section states a fundamental principle of copyright ownership that a transfer of a material object does not automatically result in transfer of copyright and vice versa. For a sale of a material object to result in transfer of a copyright, a specific written conveyance of rights is required. The principle holds true even where the object transferred is a copy or phonorecord of the original manuscript, the negative of a photograph, or an object where the work was first fixed like the master tape recording or a unique painting/statue.
The situation prior to the 1976 Act was in stark contrast to the present because unless specifically reserved, artists were presumed to transfer common law literary property rights when they sold their material object/creation.