There are different ways in which copyright owners can transfer their rights to other persons. A copyright owner may wish to give to another person or entity permission to use their work.
Copyright owners can either assign or license their rights in copyright material. To be valid and binding, assignments and exclusive licenses of copyright must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner. It is also highly recommended that copyright owners also put non-exclusive licenses of their rights in writing.
As mentioned in the section on copyright ownership, copyright ownership vests in the owner of a work a bundle of exclusive rights which include the right to exploit their rights through control over the rights to copy, distribute, make a work available online and amongst other things make adaptations of a work. For all material which attracts copyright protection, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce or make copies of the work.
Their rights to exploit their work will depend on the nature of the work which they own, such as the right to perform or play the material in public, and to broadcast and communicate the work to the public.
Copyright works can be assigned, which means transferred or sold to another person or entity, or licensed. When copyright is either assigned or licensed, it can be divided in a number of ways, by territory, time, type of use or a combination of these. Exclusive licences are the most common form of commercialising intellectual property used by owners.
In licensing their copyright works, the owner might give up the right to commercialise, but not the ownership of the IP itself. In return the copyright owner will usually agree to receive royalties, which are payments in return for licensing their works, which may be calculated in a variety of ways.
When assigning copyright to a third person or entity, the copyright owner sells or transfers their rights to the assignee and retains no rights over their intellectual property. The person to whom the work is assigned becomes the new copyright owner. It is common practice for film production companies to seek a transfer by way of an assignment of copyright in a screenplay.
Under an exclusive licence, the licensee is the only person who can legally use the work in the manner set out by the terms of the licence. It is common practice in book publishing agreements for a writer to grant the publisher an exclusive licence to print and publish
their novel. The author isn’t entitled to license their novel to another publisher to publish the same book during the duration of the licence. The exclusive licensee gains rights similar to the rights to the copyright owner, including the right to bring copyright infringement action against third parties.