Copyright licences

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 deals with the core suspects of copyright law, including licences. Copyright licences are increasingly important as a revenue stream for rights holders seeking to maximise their returns on an investment in a literary, artistic or dramatic work. Section 16(2) of the Act provides that copyright is infringed by a person who without the licence of the copyright owner does, or authorises another to do, any of the acts restricted by the copyright. In a legal sense, it is easier to think of a licence simply as permission to do something.

The two main types of copyright licence are exclusive licences and non-exclusive licences.

Exclusive licences are defined under section 92 of the Act. In summary, they must be:

  • In writing
  • Signed by or on behalf of the copyright owner
  • Allow the licensee to exercise rights otherwise only exercisable by the copyright owner and
  • Exclude all others from being able to exercise such rights, including the licensor.

Non-exclusive licences are dealt with predominantly by section 101A of the Act. Essentially, these allow the licensee to exercise rights which remain exercisable by the copyright owner. Moreover, there is no requirement for the licence to be in writing and a copyright owner may grant several non-exclusive licences in respect of a single work.

A person who acquires the copyright in a work is bound by the terms of the licence granted by the seller under section 90(4) of the Act, unless the copyright was purchased in good faith for valuable consideration and without notice of the licence. It is therefore essential that a copyright owner understands the distinctions between these two types of licence and the implications of entering into an agreement.

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