Typically, the creator of a creative work holds the copyright ownership and has several rights over the work. One of the many rights that the copyright owner has is the right to license the work. This practice is actually very common. Learn more about what is entailed in establishing a copyright license and what other forms this practice can take.
When an individual owns a creative work — essentially, when they hold the copyright — they are legally given a set of rights for how they can use their work. Licensing material grants some of these rights to another party. Sometimes licenses are established with a company and sometimes with an individual. Most of the time, creators will sell their work by licensing it in exchange for money. In order for distributors to replicate and market the work, the copyright owner must grant them the right to do so.
Additionally, when licensing material, the owner can decide exactly what limitations they wish to put on it. These limitations can take nearly any form, from geographical limitations to duration. For example, the writer of a song can allow a record company to print and sell the song in the United State for five years, but retain the right to perform the song publically, so no other musicians with the record company can perform the song. When establishing a license, it must be recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright Ownership Rights
Before you think about licensing, it is important that you understand what rights are granted to you by the U.S. Copyright Office. These are the rights that you have the ability to extend to others through a license:
- The right to market and sell the work. This right is typically licensed to distributors and publishers if the owners intend to profit from their copyrighted material.
- The rights to license, assign, or transfer ownership to any party. It is very rare to license this right unless the owners wish to completely give up their ownership.
- The right to reproduce the copyrighted material. Again, it is typical for this right to be granted for marketing reasons.
- The right to develop derivative works. Many creators wish to retain this right so they have creative authority over sequels and other derivative works, but this right is often included in many marketing deals with large distributing companies.
- The rights to perform, play, or display the material publicly. This right usually only applies to performing arts, music, or film, but can technically also apply to visual media, especially with the Internet.
Exclusive Versus Nonexclusive
There are two types of licenses: exclusive and nonexclusive. The distinction is basically just how many entities are licensed. An exclusive license is granted to exactly one individual or company. The license will also include an agreement that the original owner will not license the work out to any other companies. This gives the licensee the only right to reproduce and sell the work, which makes the right more appealing. Typically, exclusive licenses are worth more, but some companies will only agree to a deal if the license is exclusive. Nonexclusive licenses are essentially just licenses to multiple parties, or a single license which does not limit the licencor from granting additional licenses at a later date.
Finally, there is one alternative to licensing a creative work. If the owner grants 100% of their rights, including the right to license or transfer ownership, it is referred to as an assignment. In the case of assignment, the original owner no longer has any claim to the work. Additionally, for it to be a true assignment, no limitations can be placed. The new owner will have all of the rights in all locations and for as long as the copyright is in effect.
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