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How To License Your Copyright

WHY?

The Indian Copyright Act recognises different types of ‘works’ and protects them from unauthorised use by others. Under Indian law, you can claim copyright over photographs, paintings and illustrations (artistic works), books, essays or software (literary works), graphical notations (musical works), choreographed performances or recitals (dramatic works), sound recording, videos and even entire movies (cinematographic films).

If you are the author of any of the ‘works’ described above, you are the owner of that work (there are exceptions to this rule). Being the copyright owner entitles you to certain ‘exclusive rights’. These exclusive rights ensure that nobody other than yourself can reproduce, perform, distribute, sell, translate, adapt, rent or store that work (as applicable to the work in question) unless you give explicit permission to do so.

However, a situation may arise where you would like to allow someone else to use your work for a specific purpose. You may wish, for example, to allow the use of your song in a film, your code in a computer program or your essay in a magazine.

HOW?

By entering into a written license agreement with an individual or organisation, you (the copyright owner) can dictate the terms under which you permit your work to be used. You may enter into multiple agreements with separate individuals or organisations under varied terms. In order to comply with the rules for licensing under Indian copyright law, keep the following in mind:

Step 1: Identify the work

First and foremost, describe what exactly it is that you want to license. For example, you may wish to license all the photographs available on your website, or just a single photograph. By specifically describing the ‘work’ you are licensing, you are signalling that you do not authorise the use of any other content without your explicit permission (even if it is incidental, implied or assumed).

Step 2: Specify the rights 

As the copyright owner, you are granted certain exclusive rights, depending upon the type of work. Generally, they include, amongst other things, the right to reproduce, distribute, rent or sell and communicate the work to the public. You can allow the licensee to exploit only some or all of these rights. Also, with the advent of modern technologies, it may be useful to specify the medium in which you are permitting the work to be used (mobile, internet, television).

Step 3: Limit the duration 

If you don’t want the license to continue in perpetuity, consider limiting it to a few months/years. You can also choose to allow auto-renewal of the license, without the need for written confirmation (or with it, if you desire). Be warned – if you don’t specify a term for the license, it is presumed to be for 5 years.

Step 4: Define the territorial extent 

You can allow the work to be used anywhere in the world (or not). If nothing is stated in the agreement, it is presumed to be the territory of India.

Step 5: Fix the royalty or compensation you want 

In exchange for allowing the use of your work under the license, you may demand some payment, which is typically called ‘royalty’. Interestingly, the law was changed in 2012 to also allow for ‘any other consideration’, so it needn’t be a pure monetary payment. You could just as well ask the licensee for an iPhone or to mow your lawn (or something more imaginative). But if there is no consideration at all, the license agreement will be deemed to be invalid under contract law.

Step 6: Determine when and how extension, revision and termination will apply

It is especially important to state the grounds for termination of the license agreement. For example, you may want the licensee to immediately discontinue using your work if he/she engages with a competitor, goes bankrupt or shuts down the business. Likewise, you could specify when and how the license agreement can be extended or revised. Do note that if the person or organisation to whom you are licensing the work does not exercise the rights licensed to him/her/it within a period of one year from the date of the agreement, the rights will automatically lapse. This condition can be overridden by including a specific clause in the agreement.

Step 7: Sign the agreement legibly 

Make multiple copies of the license agreement after they have been signed by both parties.

Additional Pointers

What is perhaps most crucial to content creators is that notwithstanding any license agreement you may have entered into, you (the author of the work) have the full and continuing right to demand attribution, i.e. the licensee must clearly state that you are the author of the work. Moreover, the licensee cannot distort, mutilate or modify the work in a way that is prejudicial to your honour or reputation.

Of course, these are only the bare minimum requirements to execute a valid copyright license agreement under Indian law. There are several issues to consider depending on the work in question and the intended purpose of the license. Accordingly, additional clauses should be included to clearly set out the rights and obligations of both parties.

Lastly, if you would like to explore ways to share your knowledge and creativity with the world, please consider using a Creative Commons license. For what it’s worth, all content on Techlawtopia is licensed under such a license. A primer on Creative Commons licenses is available here.

Hope this was useful. If you have any questions or comments, please use the contact page.

(This primer is licensed under a CC 4.0 license. You are free to copy, use, share, modify and translate this primer without permission, so long as it is strictly for a non-commercial purpose and you attribute Techlawtopia and the author as the original source. For other permissions, please use the contact page)