/ Copyright License: Meaning, Types, Criteria, and Legal Jurisdiction

Copyright License: Meaning, Types, Criteria, and Legal Jurisdiction

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Manish Jindal

December 20, 2023


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Copyright License: Meaning, Types, Criteria, and Legal Jurisdiction

As digital technology has developed, it is more crucial than ever to protect intellectual property.

As creators and consumers navigate the vast landscape of artistic works, software, and online content, the concept of copyright plays a pivotal role.

At the heart of copyright lies the notion of licenses—legal instruments that grant specific permissions and define the boundaries of use for copyrighted materials.

Understanding copyright licenses is crucial for all parties, including content creators, businesses, and individuals, as these licenses dictate the permissible ways to use and distribute copyrighted materials.

This article focuses on copyright licenses.

Copyright License Meaning

Copyright licensing plays a crucial role for a creator (or owner) of a creative work in protecting their intellectual property.

It grants you the ability to authorise specific uses of your work while retaining ownership and ensuring fair compensation for its utilisation.

Here are some key benefits of copyright licensing:

  1. Protection for Your Creative Work: Copyright licensing empowers you to maintain control over how your creative work is utilised, safeguarding it against unauthorised use. This ensures that you receive the appropriate recognition and compensation you deserve.
  2. Revenue Generation: For artists (or owners), licensing can be a significant seed of income. By granting licenses for the use of your work, you can generate income based on its authorised usage, enabling you to establish a sustainable source of revenue.
  3. Establishment of Legal Rights: Copyright licensing establishes legal rights to your work, fortifying its protection under the law. This legal framework helps deter infringement and ensure that your work is safeguarded against unauthorised use.
  4. Tailored Flexibility: Copyright licensing offers flexibility tailored to your specific requirements. You have the freedom to determine the scope and duration of the license, as well as set fees or royalties, among other terms, providing customised arrangements that align with your business or creative objectives.
  5. Litigation Avoidance: Clear guidelines established through copyright licensing can help prevent legal disputes. By defining permissible usage in advance, potential conflicts can be minimised, ensuring clarity and alignment among all parties involved in utilising your work.

Copyright and Licensing

The act of songwriting grants the creator automatic ownership of the copyright for their work.

This gives them exclusive rights as the author to control how the song is used and who can use it.

For instance, they can decide whether others are allowed to perform the song in public, make a cover version, or use it in a commercial.

Instead of relying on verbal agreements, the songwriter can distribute their song with a license that outlines the terms of use.

This license sets the guidelines for others who want to use the song, whether it’s for personal enjoyment, public performances, or commercial purposes.

By including a license, the songwriter maintains their copyright and ensures that others use the song within the agreed-upon terms.

Licenses can be flexible. For example, the songwriter may choose to offer their song for free under Creative Commons.

Commons license, which allows non-commercial use with proper attribution.

An option for revenue generation is the sale of licenses to individuals or businesses. This grants them specified rights to use the song for commercial purposes in exchange for a fee.

It’s important to understand that purchasing a song or a license to use it doesn’t grant full control or ownership to the buyer.

The songwriter retains ownership. They have the authority to impose restrictions on how the song is used, including caps on the number of performances, distribution areas, and license terms.

In some cases, the copyright holder may differ.

For instance, if a songwriter writes a song while working for a music production firm, the company can own the copyright rather than the specific artist.

Even under these scenarios, the songwriter may still be entitled to moral rights, like the right to be acknowledged as the song’s author.

The law can be complex, but this explanation provides a basic understanding of how it works in relation to songs and creative works.

Types of Copyright Licenses: Voluntary and Compulsory

There are two types of licenses under the Indian Copyright Act:

Voluntary License

Covered by Section 30 of the said Act, a voluntary license allows the owner of an existing or prospective copyright to grant an interest in the right through a written and signed license agreement.

The license becomes effective upon the existence of the work in the case of future copyrights.

Compulsory License

Under Section 31 of the Copyright Act, a compulsory license grants an exclusive right to perform an act without prior permission from the copyright holder.

It applies when the original copyright owner withholds the work from the public, refuses republication or performance, or denies communication through broadcast.

The Copyright Board conducts an investigation, provides a hearing opportunity to the owner, and may order the Registrar of Copyrights to issue a compulsory license to the complainant, ensuring public access to the work.

The purpose of compulsory licensing is to make copyrighted works accessible to the public.

While copyright protection benefits creators, there are instances when owners are unwilling to provide access to their works.

In such cases, the Registrar of Copyrights grants compulsory licenses to facilitate the public availability of the work.

Related Article: Check out the linked article to know more about compulsory licensing in copyright

Licenses can be Categorised as Exclusive or Non-Exclusive

An exclusive license grants the licensee, or the licensee and any authorised individuals, the sole right to use specific protected creative content, excluding all other parties, including the copyright holder.

In other words, it provides an exclusive right that belongs only to the licensee.

The exclusive licensee possesses this specific right according to Section 2(j) [of the law].

On the other hand, a non-exclusive license allows the copyright owner to grant licenses to multiple parties, in addition to the licensee.

The owner retains the right to utilise the copyright as well.

It does not restrict the owner from granting licenses to others.

Licenses can have different durations.

They can either be for an indefinite period or limited to a specific timeframe.

If a license is given for publishing a literary work, the publisher has the right to sell unsold copies even after the license period ends, unless there is a specific provision in the agreement stating otherwise.

There are also cases where licenses are implied, meaning they are assumed based on the circumstances or the parties conduct.

For example, the authority for deciding whether or not a submitted letter will be published in a newspaper or magazine lies with the editor.

However, any royalty payment terms would still apply.

The Key Prerequisites and Criteria for Copyright Licencing in India

In India, acquiring a copyright license requires meeting certain eligibility criteria and fulfilling mandatory prerequisites.

Here are the key considerations:

  1. The work seeking copyright protection must be an original creation of the author. It should not be a reproduction or copied from another existing work.
  2. The work must be fixed in a tangible form or material form. This means it should be expressed in a physical medium, such as a book, painting, sculpture, musical composition, or recorded audio/video.
  3. The piece of work must fit into one of the expressly protected categories under the law as outlined in the Copyright Act. These categories include literary works, artistic works, musical works, dramatic works, cinematographic films, sound recordings, and computer programs.
  4. To permit the use of a work protected, the original copyright owner must be the sole owner of those rights. This means that they have the sole authority to grant or deny permission for others to use or reproduce their work.
  5. The copyright license agreement must be in writing and duly signed by both parties involved, namely the copyright owner (licensor) and the party seeking the license (licensee). This written document serves as evidence of the agreed-upon terms and conditions governing the authorised use of the copyrighted work.

By satisfying these eligibility criteria and pre-requisites, individuals or entities can ensure compliance with the necessary requirements to obtain a copyright license in India.

It is advisable to consult legal professionals to navigate the licensing process effectively and protect one’s intellectual property rights.

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Important Documentation for Licencing in India

To acquire a copyright license in India, the following documents are essential:

  1. Copy of the copyright-protected work.
  2. Copyright registration certificate (if applicable).
  3. Written and signed license agreement.
  4. Proof of identity for the copyright owner (e.g., Aadhaar card, passport, or PAN card).
  5. Proof of identity for the licensee (e.g., Aadhaar card, passport, or PAN card).
  6. Proof of address for both the copyright owner and licensee (e.g., recent utility bill or rental agreement).

These documents are crucial in properly licensing copyrighted works and maintaining a clear understanding between the copyright owner and the licensee.

Licencing in India: A Step-by-Step Process

The following are the standard procedures involved in the licencing process if you’re trying to get a copyright licence in India:

  1. Identify the license category: Find out which licence type, such as one for broadcast, performance, or reproduction, is needed.
  2. Identify the copyright owner: Obtain permission from the rightful copyright owner, which could be the author, publisher, or music label.
  3. Negotiate license terms: Engage in negotiations with the rightful owner regarding license duration, territorial restrictions, and applicable fees.
  4. Draft the license agreement: Prepare a written license agreement that encompasses the agreed-upon terms and conditions, and ensure both parties sign it.
  5. Obtain the license certificate: Upon signing the agreement, the owner may provide a license certificate as evidence of the granted license.
  6. Adhere to license terms: Fulfill your obligations as per the license agreement, strictly adhering to the specified terms. Any violation may lead to legal consequences.

By following these steps, individuals or entities can navigate the copyright licensing process in India, ensuring legal authorisation and compliance with the license terms.

License Renewal, Validity, and Cancellation in India

Copyright licenses can be canceled if the license terms are violated or if the license holder infringes on the original copyright owner’s rights.

The validity of licenses varies based on the license type and terms outlined in the agreement.

The license period shall be taken to be valid for a period of five years in circumstances where it is not specifically stated in the agreement.

Some licenses require periodic renewal to maintain their validity.

Legal Jurisdiction and Copyright Licensing

Copyright law varies across countries, and each jurisdiction interprets it differently.

While there are international agreements, such as the Berne Convention, that establish minimum standards for copyright protection, the application of law can differ between jurisdictions.

The Berne Convention, established in 1886, mandates that member states recognise copyrights from other countries and provide the same rights to foreign works as they do to their own citizens.

Currently, 164 countries have signed this agreement.

It’s important to note that licenses can be limited to specific jurisdictions.

The usage of work may vary depending on the copyright laws of each country, allowing for different levels of freedom in different locations.

If you work on the web and engage in purchasing licenses from owners across different countries, it is crucial to abide by the laws specific to each jurisdiction.

When in doubt, seeking legal advice is recommended as navigating the complexities of IP laws involves political and legal considerations.


A copyright license serves as a crucial tool for both the owners and those seeking to use copyrighted works.

It provides a legal framework for granting permission to use creative works while protecting the rights of the owner.

By obtaining a copyright license, individuals and organisations can ensure compliance with IP laws, establish clear terms and conditions for use, and foster a mutually beneficial relationship between creators and users of creative works.

Whether it’s through voluntary licenses or compulsory licenses, the licensing process plays a vital role in facilitating the lawful and fair utilisation of copyrighted materials in various industries and domains.

It is essential to respect and adhere to the licenses to uphold the principles of intellectual property rights and foster creativity in a balanced and responsible manner.


How do you obtain a copyright license?

The process typically involves five steps: determining if permission is needed, identifying the owner, identifying the rights required, negotiating with the owner (including payment if necessary), and obtaining a written permission agreement.

How is licensing different from copyright?

While licensing is the method by which the right holder authorises third parties to make use of a copyrighted work subject to certain restrictions, copyright is a statutory structure that affords the creator exclusive rights.

Who can obtain a copyright license? Why is this license necessary?

Any individual or entity can obtain a copyright license.

This license is required to legally use a copyrighted work without infringing on the owner’s rights.

It grants the licensee the right to use the work without facing claims of unauthorised use or infringement.

Who has the authority to grant a Copyright License?

The copyright license is issued by the copyright owner or their authorised legal representative.

The rightful owner holds the exclusive right to grant permission to others to use their copyrighted work.

This can include individuals, organisations, or companies that own the rights to literary, artistic, musical, or other creative works.

Where are licenses used?

Licenses are used in various industries and sectors where copyrighted works are utilised.

This includes publishing, music, film and television, software development, art and design, photography, architecture, and more.

Licenses are employed to regulate and govern the legal usage, distribution, reproduction, adaptation, performance, or display of copyrighted works within specific parameters defined by the rightful owner.

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