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In Australia, copyright ordinarily grants you, as the copyright owner, an exclusive right to the creative expression of your work. If you want to allow others to use or reproduce your copyrighted work, you may decide to license or assign your copyright for a specific purpose. This article sets out the differences between a copyright licence and a copyright assignment and when you might want to use them. 

How Do I Licence My Copyright?

If you licence your copyright, you are allowing another person or company to use your copyright, but you are not giving them ownership of your work. A copyright licence should be clearly drafted to set out the terms and conditions of your agreement. It should clearly identify: 

  • who the copyright owner is; 
  • who you are granting a right to use the copyright work;
  • the exact copyright material that the licensee may copy; 
  • how the licensee will be able to use the copyright material; and 
  • whether there will be a distribution of profits, if the work will produce revenue while being licensed. 

For example, if you want to licence the copyright in part of your website, the licence should include details about: 

  • which exact parts of your website you will licence; 
  • how long the licence lasts; and 
  • where the licensee can reproduce the content.  

A licence for copyright material can often be very detailed, so it is important to have a lawyer specialising in copyright look over the terms including whether any warranties apply. 

There are also different types of licences that are available, including:

  • exclusive licences (a licence that only permits the licensee to use the copyright material the licence covers, and also excludes you as the licensor from using the copyright material);
  • non-exclusive licences (a licence that allows multiple people to use your material); 
  • sole licences (a licence that allows you to use the copyright material at the same time as the licensee); and
  • implied licences (in certain circumstances where you permit the use of your copyright material, you may be granting an implied licence; for example, where you have consented to them using your work, but not by way of formal agreement). 

How Do I Assign My Copyright? 

When you assign your copyright, you are effectively transferring your ownership. The person who receives the transfer of the copyright becomes the new owner. You may want to assign your copyright as an individual to your business, to add to your business’ IP portfolio

A valid assignment of copyright must be made in writing, usually in the form of a deed or agreement. This agreement should include: 

  • what you are assigning; 
  • when this assignment will take place; and
  • any warranties, including guarantees that you are the sole owner of the copyright and you have the authority and capacity to assign the copyright. 

It is also possible to assign copyright in material that is yet to exist or you are currently creating.

Can I Include Restrictions When Licensing or Assigning My Copyright?

You will often want to include certain limitations or conditions in your licence or assignment agreement, so that you have more control over how others can use your intellectual property

For example, you could limit the use of the copyright by:

  • geography (e.g. in Australia only);
  • a period (e.g. for 12 months only);
  • sub-license (e.g. prohibiting the licensee to allow others to use the material);
  • the application of the rights (e.g. to publish online only, and not in print); or
  • requirements for payment (e.g. flat-fee, periodic fee or on a royalty basis).

What If Someone Breaches the Licence or Assignment Agreement?

If someone uses your work beyond the terms of your agreement, they are doing so without your permission. This is likely to be considered copyright infringement and a breach of your intellectual property rights. 

Where someone has infringed your copyright, you have a number of options. 

For example, you may be entitled to:

  • an injunction to stop the licensee or assignee from continuing to use your work; or
  • seize the offending material from the licensee or assignee. 

If you believe someone has infringed your copyright, or if you are not sure whether you may be operating outside of the terms of your agreement, it is best to speak to a copyright lawyer to work out what you should do next. 

Key Takeaways 

If you are planning to give permission to another to use your copyright, you will need to enter into a licence agreement. If you would prefer to transfer complete ownership of your copyright work now that you have built up its value, you can enter into an assignment agreement instead. You should write and draft these agreements carefully to give you as much control as you would like. If you have any questions or need assistance drafting an assignment or license agreement, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is copyright?

Copyright is an automatically created intellectual property right. It exists in your creative works as soon as you create them. 

What is the difference between licensing and assigning my copyright?

When you licence your copyrighted work, you allow someone else to use it under certain conditions. When you assign your copyrighted work, you are effectively transferring ownership.

Can I include certain conditions when I licence or assign my copyright?

Yes, you can. For example, you can include restrictions on how, where or for how long the other party may use your work.

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