Copyright Terms – What Is the Legal Definition of a License Agreement?

Copyright of specific works and the ideal of Intellectual Property are two subjects, especially in our highly technological Internet age with ease of communication, theft and fraud, which are constantly under debate. The discussion on how to protect the rights of an artistic or literary creator from those who would steal works, give them out as their own, or simply market them for profit, has been raging since long before the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was first penned and accepted in 1885 / 1886. The Berne Convention consists of various clauses which define who is entitled to copyright protection, over which term this copyright provision applies and how copyright protection for literary and artistic works is to be handled in countries which have differing laws. The Berne Convention was originally ratified in Berne, Switzerland in December 1887 but has undergone many and varied changes over the ensuing years, with the latest version coming into force in 1988. It has also been complemented by the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty, covering information technology and the Internet, in 1988.

Copyright is automatically assigned to the creator of a work regardless of whether this work is registered with a national or international copyright authority or agency and applies from the moment of creation. It may be assigned for a specified length of time, sold permanently with all rights and privileges and inherited, this last when royalties for reproduction of a work are paid. It may apply to individuals or to companies which take over a work for reproduction or are assigned administrative powers, but is completely separate from patent and trade mark laws.

The Copyright License Agreement is a contractual agreement between two parties over the use of a work for a limited or defined length of time. It does not apply just to a completed work, but may be also agreed upon for a work being planned or which is in the process of completion. The Agreement allows a copyright holder to specify who has the rights to market his or her work, once it is completed, for a specific period after which the copyright reverts back to the original holder. It is possible to make separate Agreements for different countries around the world and, in some cases, for differing uses. A work of art, for example, may be licensed to a greetings card manufacturer and, at the same time, to a manufacturer of chocolate products as decoration for the packaging.

A Copyright License Agreement is not to be confused with Copyright Assignment. Here the copyright holder assigns the rights for use and marketing to a third party, to a company or agent in return for royalties or a set sum in financial recompense.