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If you are a copyright owner, you may want to allow another person to use your copyrighted work. There are a few different ways to transfer your copyright material and rights to another person. Licence agreements and assignments are the main ways that a copyright owner can transfer their copyright. However, there are key differences between the two. Therefore, it is important that you know which is best for your situation, as using the wrong method could be a costly mistake. This article will outline both licence agreements and assignments, as well as the circumstances where transferring your copyright is not necessary.

Copyright

Copyright is an intellectual property tool that covers a wide range of original, creative works. Some of the categories eligible for copyright include:

  • literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; 
  • sound recordings; 
  • films; and 
  • communication works.

As a copyright owner, you will have certain rights and protections, the length of which will depend on the type of material you have created. You can mark copyrighted material with the © symbol if you wish, but it is not mandatory to receive the benefits of copyright ownership. The rights and protections gained through copyright are:

  • the exclusive use of your copyrighted work;
  • the power to decide who else can use your copyrighted work; and 
  • legal protection.

These rights and protections will apply to your work automatically at the time of creation, so you do not have to register your copyright.

Licence Agreements

Once you have established that you are the copyright owner of a work, you have the ability to transfer the copyright to another person. One method of doing this is with a licence agreement. Licence agreements permit others to use your copyrighted material in a way that both you and the other party agree on. Licence agreements can be flexible, so the terms and conditions can suit your needs for any situation. For example, you could vary details regarding the authorised uses of your copyright.

There are also different types of copyright licences that you can use. These are:

  • exclusive use, where the copyright owner will not use the material at the same time as the other party:
  • non-exclusive use, where the copyright owner may use the material at the same time; and
  • sole use, where only one licence agreement is granted at a time.

Licence agreements do not have impact ownership rights and do not transfer them over. This is useful if you want to allow someone to use your material but retain your rights and protections. 

Assignment

An assignment is the full transfer of the copyrighted material and ownership to another person. You can assign all or part of your copyright in an assignment. For example, you may wish only to assign your design registration, but not the product that the design is on. For an assignment agreement to be considered valid, it must include the material subject to transfer, the identity of the new owner and both parties’ signatures. An assignment is legally binding once completed, so it is best to seek legal advice if you plan to enter into one. 

Circumstances Where Transfer Is Not Necessary

There are circumstances where permission is not needed from the copyright owner to use copyrighted material. You do not need to transfer your copyright in these circumstances, but you will still retain your rights and protections as an owner. These exceptions are when others use your material for the purposes of:

  • research;
  • private study;
  • criticism or review; or 
  • reporting current events.

Under these circumstances, users can copy and use your copyrighted work. However, their use must be deemed fair. What qualifies as fair dealing will depend on the context of their usage.

Key Takeaways

There are two ways of transferring your copyright. The first is a licence agreement, which allows you to permit others to use your copyrighted work without impacting your ownership rights. Alternatively, you can fully assign your copyright to another person. A good understanding of these will allow you to correctly decide which is right for you. You should also be aware that there are circumstances where others do not have to seek your permission to use your copyrighted work. If you have any questions about copyright, our experienced intellectual property lawyers can help. Call us at 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a licence agreement?

A licence agreement is a contract between the copyright owner and another person to allow them to use the copyrighted material.

What is an assignment?

An assignment is the complete transfer of copyrighted material and ownership to another person.

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