License agreement, in brief

by Julie Aubin-Perron

A licence is an agreement in which a licensor allows a licensee to use certain rights under certain conditions and for the purposes set out in the agreement. In the arts, often the rights in question are rights in a work, for example, the right to reproduce a song. What’s in it for the licensor? The chance to make a profit and to get their work circulated more widely. Usually, the licensor will receive royalties on sales.

An important advantage of a licence is that it typically allows the licensor to retain full ownership of its rights, such as its copyright, trademark or patent. The license agreement is all the more advantageous for the licensee, who will be able to benefit from using certain rights (think again of the example of using a song, perhaps in a commercial) without being obliged to buy the rights in the song outright.

The clauses of the license agreement could specify certain important points, such as the works covered by the contract, its duration, the financial consideration (or other type of royalty) that the artist will receive, the terms of payment and the geographical area covered, among others. The agreement could also specify whether the license granted is transferable (or not) to third parties. The artist will also have to specify whether some of his or her rights related to the works in question have been sold.

License agreements and the Internet

Today, while many artists are using social media to increase their visibility by posting their photographs, texts or music on the Web, important issues have emerged. Indeed, many social networks have conditions of use requiring them to grant their rights to the said platform. This is the case of Twitter and Facebook, where the user grants a non-exclusive, sub-licensable, royalty-free and transferable intellectual property license to these two social media when he or she publishes his or her work on these platforms. Moreover, the license is, to say the least, worldwide. No other options are available to the user, and this license only terminates when the relevant publications are deleted or when the user’s account is deleted.

Even on the Internet, copyright principles apply. Thus, unless they have assigned certain intellectual property rights, authors are full owners of their works. According to these principles, to the question of whether all works found on the Internet can be used free of charge, the answer is no, since such use always depends on the terms of the license. On the other hand, the use of Facebook or Twitter implies the author’s acceptance that his or her work can be disseminated by the medium in question. All in all, every artist should pay attention to the terms of a license to use their work, both on the Web and in the context of a business relationship, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.