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Difference Between Copyright Assignment and Copyright License


Last Updated on June 28, 2024 by Sachin Jaiswal

Copyright is a basic legal idea that gives authors exclusive rights over their unique works, including literary, artistic, musical, and theatrical creations. It is very important in the creative sector as it gives writers, artists, and inventors the required security and incentives to keep generating worthwhile material.

Copyright assignment and licensing are two legal processes controlling the transfer and use of protected works. While both involve the transfer of rights, they differ in terms of ownership, exclusivity, time, and the associated rights and responsibilities. Understanding the differences between these two ideas is important for artists, companies, and anyone involved in managing and marketing protected materials.

Copyright Assignment

Copyright assignment refers to the full transfer of ownership and exclusive rights over a protected work from the original writer to another party, known as the buyer. Through this process, the author gets full control and decision-making power over the work, including the right to publish, share, show, perform, or make derivative copies of the protected material.

Usually found in a thorough contract with clauses for partial or complete assignment, the length and geographical extent of the transfer, and the royalties or compensation to be given to the original author, the assignee’s rights and obligations are described. Subject to any restrictions or terms included in the assignment agreement, the assignee becomes the new legal owner of the copyright and may use the work however they deem appropriate.

Copyright Licensing

Copyright licensing, on the other hand, means giving permission to use a protected work without passing control. The copyright owner, known as the publisher, keeps the basic rights and ownership of the work, while the user is allowed particular rights to use the work in a stated way, such as publishing, sale, or public performance.

There are several types of copyright licenses, including exclusive, non-exclusive, and forced rights. The rights given in a license deal can vary but generally include the scope of use, time, and regional limits. The owner often gets fees or other forms of pay in exchange for the given rights, which are addressed as part of the license deal.

Copyright licensing can be optional, where the parties talk the terms, or statutory, where the law requires certain licensing arrangements, such as in the case of forced licenses.

Key Differences Between Copyright Assignment and Licensing

Transfer of Ownership vs. Granting Permission:

The main difference between copyright assignment and licensing comes from transferring ownership and control over the protected work. In a copyright transfer, the original owner fully gives the ownership and exclusive rights to the assignee, who becomes the new legal owner of the copyright. In contrast, copyright licensing includes the copyright owner giving permission to the licensee to use the work in a specific way while the licensor keeps ownership and control over the copyright.

Exclusive Control vs. Shared Rights:

With a copyright transfer, the receiver gets exclusive power and control over the economic rights connected with the protected work, including the right to print, share, and publicly show the work. In a licensing deal, the user is given certain rights, but the seller keeps the general rights and can continue to use the work themselves or grant additional licenses to others.

Duration and Territorial Scope:

The duration and physical reach of the rights also differ between transfer and lease. Assignments are usually constant and can cover global rights, whereas licenses are often limited in time and geographic reach, as set by the deal.

Royalties and Compensation:

The pay system also differs. The owner may receive a one-time payment or a share of the future earnings in an assignment. In contrast, in a licensing deal, the copyright owner usually gets ongoing income based on the licensee’s work use.

Termination and Revocation:

Finally, the termination and revocation steps differ. Assignments are generally more difficult to terminate or revocate as the ownership has been permanently changed. On the other hand, licenses can be more easily ended or revoked, either by ending the agreed-upon time or by the owner exercising their right to stop the agreement under certain conditions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Assignment and Licensing

For the Copyright Owner:

Advantages of Assignment:

  • Immediate and possibly better cash compensation through a one-time payment
  • Transfers the duty of handling and utilizing the work to the assignee

Disadvantages of Assignment:

  • Permanent loss of control and ownership over the protected work
  • Forfeits the ability to gain from future income or royalties

Advantages of Licensing:

  • Retains ownership and control over the protected work
  • Ongoing fee payments from the licensee’s use of the work
  • Flexibility to give multiple licenses or cancel the license

Disadvantages of Licensing:

  • Potentially lower cash compensation compared to assignment
  • Requires active handling of the license deals

For the Assignee or Licensee

Advantages of Assignment:

  • Gains full control and exclusive rights over the protected work
  • Ability to use the work without restrictions from the original owner

Advantages of Licensing:

  • Allows use of the protected work without the need to buy it directly
  • Provides access to important intellectual property at a lower cost

Disadvantages of Licensing:

  • Limited rights and control over the work, subject to the rules of the license
  • Ongoing fee payments to the copyright owner

For the Public

Advantages of Assignment and Licensing:

  • Increased availability and accessibility of protected works through different means
  • Potential for more diverse and new uses of the source material

Disadvantages of Assignment:

  • Reduced competition and choice, as the owner gets exclusive rights

Disadvantages of Licensing:

  • Potential for higher prices or limited access if the copyright owner puts bad terms on licensees

Overall, both assignment and licensing have advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them relies on the specific goals and circumstances of the copyright owner, the assignee/licensee, and the public.


In conclusion, the major difference between copyright assignment and licensing is the transfer of ownership and control. Copyright assignment includes the permanent transfer of exclusive rights to the assignee, who becomes the new legal owner of the work, while copyright licensing gives permission to use the work without moving ownership, with the user holding control. The differences extend to duration, regional reach, pay structure, and termination ways. Understanding the legal effects of these two processes is essential for copyright owners, assignees, licensees, and anyone involved in managing and selling protected works. As the creative industry continues to evolve, especially with the effect of digital technologies and continuous talks surrounding fair use and public access, it is important to stay informed about the latest trends and factors in the world of copyright.

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Sachin Jaiswal

Sachin Jaiswal B.A.(Hons)! Sachin Jaiswal has been writing material on his own for more than five years. He got his B.A.(Hons) in English from the well-known University of Delhi. His success in this job is due to the fact that he loves writing and making material that is interesting. He has worked with a lot of different clients in many different fields, always giving them high-quality content that their target audience will enjoy. Through his education and work experience, he is able to produce high-quality content that meets his clients' needs.