In many instances, the author of a work is the person or persons who create the work and fix it in a tangible medium of expression.
U.S. Copyright law protects cartoon or "graphic characters" as visual works of authorship.
Trademark law can also be used to protect cartoon or graphic characters if they are used in association with the sale of goods or services.
However, under a statutory exception in the copyright law, an entity other than the individual or individuals who create the work and fix it in a tangible medium of expression may be identified as an author.
Copyright law has a "works made for hire" provision that allows an entity other than the individual who creates the work to be identified as the author. A work made for hire is defined as a work prepared by an employee within the scope of employment or a work that falls within one of nine special categories if the parties agree that the work is a work made for hire. Therefore, in some cases, an employer is an author, or an entity that hires an independent contractor to create a work made for hire is an author. Ownership of the copyright interest is related to authorship. If an individual is the author of the work, then he or she is also the owner of the copyright.
Copyright interests may be transferred from one party to another by written agreement (e.g., by an assignment of interests) or by operation of law (e.g., by will). As a result, a person or entity that was not involved in any way in the creation of the work (i.e., not an author of the work) may become the owner of the work. A transfer of ownership other than by operation of law must be in writing. Because copyright interests are readily transferable, a person or entity that hires another individual or entity to create a work of authorship can arrange in the contract to own any copyright interests that result from creation of the work.