License, sell or market your copyright material

Guidance for copyright owners on how to grant a licence for, sell or market their work.

The new UK National Security and Investment Act 2021 comes into effect fully from 4 January 2022. Businesses and investors should check the guidance to understand what types of acquisitions are covered by the new rules.

As a copyright owner, it is for you to decide whether and how to license use of your work.

IP BASICS: Should I license or franchise my Intellectual Property?

A licence is a contractual agreement between the copyright owner and user which sets out what the user can do with a work. Any licence agreed can relate to one or more of the rights granted by copyright and can also be limited in time or any other way.

An exclusive licence could be granted, but remember that this enables the licensee to use the copyright work in the manner specified by the licence to the exclusion of all others, including the copyright owner.

Sometimes people may be able to argue that a copyright work is subject to an implied licence even when there has been no agreement about a licence.

You may prefer to allow limited access to their work without charge. One way to do this is by using a Creative Commons Licence.

Contractual agreement

Unless a copyright owner is the only person going to use your copyright work then contracts are likely to be agreed at some point. General law such as company law and competition law may govern what is acceptable in a contractual agreement. You may wish to seek advice from a lawyer, perhaps one specialising in copyright and contract law, before proceeding.

Contractual agreements are likely to be important when you:

  • need a partner to help exploit the copyright work
  • wish to negotiate the sale or other transfer of the copyright
  • would like to agree a licence with someone else who wants to use the copyright work
  • would like someone else, such as a collecting society, to administer some or all of the economic rights

In some cases it might be important to obtain an agreement/contract of confidentiality while negotiating copyright matters, especially if the work has not been published.

Implied licence

An implied licence to use a copyright work might arise when there is nothing in writing granting the user a licence and a licence has not even been agreed verbally with the copyright owner. However it is always better to ensure that any agreement about a licence is recorded in some way.

It is only possible to argue that an implied licence exists where all the circumstances suggest that the copyright owner expected the user to make use of the copyright material in the way they intend, even though this was never discussed and has not been written down anywhere. For example, this might occur where a person has commissioned the creation of a work (for example, a company logo or a corporate training video), but has not agreed a licence to use the work.

If you decide to sell or transfer your copyright there would need to be a written, signed contract stating a transfer has taken place. This is known as an assignment.

You should note that with certain copyright material even if you sell the copyright in the work you may still have certain moral rights. For instance you may have the right to be identified as the author (provided you have asserted that right previously) and the right to object to any derogatory treatment of your work. Moral rights in a work can not be transferred or ‘assigned’ but you are entitled to waive those rights.

You may want to involve others to help exploit, develop or market your copyright material. We do not give direct advice on this, but help is available.

National advice

Chamber of Commerce offers a comprehensive range of cost effective business services.

Innovate UK EDGE offers advice, consultation and training on intellectual property rights.

Regional advice

Scottish Enterprise offers practical advice on developing new ideas.

Invest Northern Ireland offers advice and assistance on innovation and entrepreneurship.

If you license or sell your copyright, you must keep detailed records of any contracts or agreements you have made.

Copy protection devices

For copyright material issued to the public in an electronic form, you may decide to use technological measures so that it is not possible to make a copy of your material, that is, it is copy-protected.

It is also possible for you to use other technological measures to prevent other types of unlawful uses of copyright material.

Where you have sold copies that are protected by technological measures, you may have the right to take action against a person who gets round or who makes, sells or otherwise deals in devices or means specifically designed or adapted to get round, the technological measures.

The right to take action is equivalent to the rights you have when suing for infringement of your copyright in the civil courts. Criminal offences may also apply to those who deal in the means to get round technological measures.

Published 6 May 2014
Last updated 4 January 2022 + show all updates
  1. New text has been added to inform our users of the new UK National Security and Investment Act 2021 that comes into effect fully from 4 January 2022. Businesses and investors should check the guidance to understand what types of acquisitions are covered by the new rules.

  2. Video added to guide 'IP BASICS: Should I license or franchise my Intellectual Property?'.

  3. First published.