Which Rights Can Be Transferred or Licensed

If you are the copyright owner of a work, you can transfer, or license others to exercise, some or all of the rights listed in Section 106 of the Copyright Act. These include:

  1. the right to reproduce (i.e., make copies of) the work;
  2. the right to make derivative works based upon the copyrighted work (this basically means the right to make adaptations of the work);
  3. the right to distribute the work;
  4. the right to display the work;
  5. the right to perform the work; and
  6. the right to perform the work through digital audio transmission (in case of sound recordings).

For instance, say that you've uploaded an e-book that you have written to your website in PDF format. You could grant a user of your website permission to download and make copies of this book, but prohibit him or her from distributing your e-book to other people.

You can further limit the rights granted based on type of media, geographical effect, and time (among other possible criteria). Three illustrative examples follow.

  • Limiting rights by media type -- Suppose you create original video content for your website or blog. You can craft a license for users of your site that allows them to reproduce and display your video content on their websites, while simultaneously disallowing them from reproducing your video in another medium, such as a film.
  • Limiting rights by geographical effect -- Suppose your photograph of an important event is so unique and powerful that it becomes famous throughout the world. You might grant Time magazine the right to reproduce and distribute the photograph in North America, while selling the same rights for Europe and Asia to another company. For more on the implications of authorizing publication of your work as part of a "collective work," such as a magazine, periodical, or anthology, see the Collective Works section of this Guide.
  • Limiting rights by time -- Consider the example immediately above, but now you are granting book rights (i.e., the right to reproduce and distribute the photograph in book form) in North America to a publishing company. You could grant exclusive book rights in North America to Company A for 25 years. After 25 years have elapsed, you could then exercise the book rights yourself or license them to Company B for the remainder of the copyright term (or any duration of time less than that). For more on the copyright term, please see the How Long Does Copyright Last? section of this Guide.

The particular examples given above are not important, nor necessarily representative of all the possibilities. The point is that you have many options in how you choose to define the rights that you transfer or license. Because of this flexibility, crafting a license can be complex and may require the assistance of a lawyer to draft terms that reflect your specific preferences as to how other people use your work. On the other hand, a Creative Commons license gives you a great deal of flexibility in terms of choosing which rights to grant others and which to withhold, without the complexity of drafting your own agreement or the expense of hiring a lawyer.

Note: You can transfer (or grant an exclusive license to) all of the Section 106 rights together. By doing this, you transfer ownership of the "copyright" itself -- i.e., all rights in the work, except for the right of termination.


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