Copyright Laws Primer: Licenses versus Assignments

Differentiating Licenses and Assignments

In simple terms, licenses and assignments are two ways to use content or authorize others to use your content. These are both terms used when obtaining permission or authorization to use copyright-protected materials. However a license and assignment are not the same thing and careful attention should be paid when using these terms in copyright permissions situations.

What is an Assignment? What is a License?

Licenses and assignments when obtaining copyright permissionsIn an assignment situation, a content owner assigns his rights. This means that the content owner is permanently giving away his content, or a portion of his content. An assignment is like a sale or a transfer of rights, whereas a license is comparable to a lease or a rental of rights.

In a licensing situation, the content owner licenses a piece of his content, thereby temporarily permitting someone else to use it. For example, an author or photographer may give permission or a license to use his work on your website.

Using the words “assignment” or “license” may not by itself guarantee what types of rights are being granted. The wording used in a license agreement could be such that, in practice, it has a similar effect to an assignment. The key concept to understand is that rights may be exploited (usually in exchange for money) without necessarily being sold or permanently given away to someone else. For example, your library could license the rights to a database even though your library has no permanent or ownership rights in that database.

See further Questions on Licensing Digital Content.

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