Last Updated: 12 Oct, 2023     Views: 22

In most cases, accessing or using databases, software, applications, websites, products or services will involve agreeing to licenses or contracts that have terms and conditions. What you agree to could allow you to do more or less than is possible under the Copyright Act. 

Licences and copyright

Exclusive licences

A copyright owner may choose to grant you an exclusive licence to use to their content. This agreement should involve transfer of value between the parties (each side gains something), be expressed in writing, and signed. The copyright owner retains their ownership, while the exclusive licencee is the only entity who can reproduce and distribute the content within the terms of the agreed licence. For example, the copyright owner of an artistic work may agree to an exclusive licence with a t-shirt manufacturer to have to have the work printed on their shirts. The copyright owner could choose to retain the right to make exclusive licence agreements with other merchandise manufacturers (excluding t-shirts).

Non-exclusive licences

If a copyright owner grants you a non-exclusive licence, the copyright owner retains copyrights to their content and can grant others a non-exclusive licence to use the content. Non-exclusive licences don't have to be in writing, but ideally they should be (even if it is just an email in which it is clear what both parties have agreed to) to mitigate the potential for future conflict between the parties. For example, a copyright owner has developed a theoretical model and is sharing it on a personal website. You ask the copyright owner for permission to use the model in a conference presentation and are granted a non-exclusive licence to use to the model for that specific purpose. The copyright owner retains the right to share and distribute their model, and grant non-exclusive licences to other researchers that may also request to use it.

Contracts and copyright

A copyright owner may choose to transfer (assign) copyright ownership to another party. Copyright assignment is a form of contract that must be in writing and signed by the parties. Assignment usually involves transfer of value between the parties (each side gains something). Assignment can be permanent, for a set time frame, for specific purposes or relate to specific geographies. It does not cancel the original copyright owner's moral rights, but does involve transfer of intellectual property rights. For example, a researcher publishing a book will probably be required to assign copyright to the publisher for the book to be developed, reproduced, distributed and sold. However, this agreement may exclude the publisher from copyright ownership of potential television or film adaptations.