Licences are an important part of copyright law. “Licence” is basically the legal term for copyright permission. When you grant a licence to someone you are granting them permission to use your copyright work in a particular way.
Licences can be limited in a number of different ways. They can be limited by the type of exclusive right. For example, you may grant someone permission to copy your work, but not to perform it publicly. Licences can be limited by purpose, so for example I might grant someone a licence to use my work on their blog but not in their conference seminars. They can be limited by time, so you might grant a permission that lasts for one year only then expires. And they can be limited geographically, so you might grant a licence for use in Australia only, for example.
Licences can have terms attached, such as: “I give you permission to use my photograph so long as you always include a link back to my blog underneath the photograph”. Licences can be granted for free or in exchange for something (usually money). Money paid for a licence is called a “licence fee“.
These limitations are useful for you to know both in your role as potential licensor (the person granting permission) and as potential licensee (the person receiving permission). As licensor, you may wish to place certain limits on the licence you grant to someone in order to maximise the licensing value of your copyright work. As licensee you will want to check that the limits on the licence granted to you do not prevent you from doing what you want or need to do with the copyright work. For example, if you’d like to post someone else’s picture on your blog or in your book, it’s not helpful to have a licence that expires after 6 months.
There are different types of licences, and it’s important to be aware of them because they have different impacts on your rights:
These are the most common form of licence. “Non-exclusive” means that the same kind of licence can be given to different people at the same time. For example, I can grant Lisa a non-exclusive licence to post my photograph on her blog, and I can also grant Kristen a non-exclusive licence to post the same photo on her blog.
Non-exclusive licences can be given verbally; they do not need to be written down. However, it is always a good idea to have a written record of anything you agree on with someone else.
Exclusive licences are a bit trickier and you should keep an eye out for them. An exclusive licence means that the right is granted exclusively to the licensee. The tricky part is that even the copyright owner is excluded from exercising the right granted for the period of time of the licence and within the jurisdiction of the licence. So if I grant Natasha an exclusive licence to publicly perform my song in Brisbane for a period of 3 months, that means that I cannot perform my own song in Brisbane for the next 3 months and I cannot give anyone else permission to perform the song in Brisbane during that period.
Exclusive licences often arise in publishing contracts – the publisher may take an exclusive licence to publish the book and a non-exclusive licence to copy and adapt the book. This means that only that publisher can publish the book. The author can reproduce the book and give other people permission to reproduce it, but cannot contract with another publisher to also publish the book.
Because exclusive licences are much more restrictive than non-exclusive licences they cannot be given verbally. The law says that exclusive licences must be in writing and signed by the licensor (the person giving the licence).
These are exactly the same as exclusive licences, with one small but important difference. Under sole licences, the copyright owner retains the right to do the act covered by the sole licence. So if I grant someone a sole licence to copy my book, they can copy it and I can copy it but noone else can. I cannot grant anyone else a licence to copy my book.
Phew! I know that’s a lot to take in, but it’s important stuff. Licences are highly relevant to your interactions and transactions online. I’ll be highlighting exactly how in future posts.