Contract terms can affect copyright rules
The Copyright Act sets out default rules establishing exclusive rights and limitations on copyright, but contract terms are often used to modify these, for example by permitting more use of copyright than is allowed under the Copyright Act. A contract is essentially an agreement between two or more parties that the law will enforce. Dealings with copyright do not have to be by way of contract. For instance, someone may gift copyright to another person by merely signing a deed of transfer to to this effect.
However, if there is a grant of rights in exchange for payment or some other undertaking, there will generally be a contract entered into. Contracts dealing with copyright may divide copyright in various ways, for example, by specifying type of use allowed, duration of use, or place of use. Contracts generally impose conditions, for example, requiring payment of a fee or acknowledgement of authorship.
Assignments of copyright
An assignment of copyright is where rights are transferred or sold to another person. Where copyright is assigned, ownership is permanently transferred. An assignment must be in writing and signed by the person assigning copyright to be legally effective.
Licensing is not a transfer of ownership, but is where an author gives someone else permission to exercise one or more of their copyright rights, for example, allowing a publisher to publish a book. A licence can be for a limited period of time, operate in a specific territory and be exclusive or non-exclusive.
An exclusive licence means the person who obtains the licence is the only person with the right to use that material during the agreed term and in the territory. A non-exclusive licence means there may be more than one licensee in respect of the same rights and material. A licence does not need to be in writing, but it is good practice for all contracts dealing with copyright be in writing. The terms “licence” and “permission” are used interchangeably in this knowledge base.