Licences and Rights

Who has rights over a particular creative work? Rights belong to the person who created the work. This is usually the person or people who created the item, but there are exceptions – for example, if someone has created something while at work, their employer will probably hold the copyright. The copyright holder can give you permission to use the material protected by copyright – usually for a fee.

What is a copyright licence?

A copyright licence is a form of contract (also known as a 'permissions agreement') based in copyright law. It represents an agreement between someone who wants to use a work (a film, song, image, text, etc) and someone else who can give permission to use it, often in exchange for money.

The kind of licence you need will depend on the work you want to use, how you want to use it and the kind of organisation you represent. You may be able to get a blanket licence from a number of organisations so that everybody in your organisation can use a range of resources legally. See the Get permission section.

Collective licensing

Blanket licences are available for uses such as photocopying for internal use, certain educational and private uses. They can also be for certain reproduction and broadcast uses, public performances and some online licensing of music and recordings. You need to read the terms of the blanket licence carefully to check that the use you require is covered.

For all other uses, especially commercial and editorial, a primary rights licence is needed and these are generally only available through a direct licensing model. A direct licence can be issued by a copyright holder or their representative to cover the exact range of rights and uses you require.

Direct licensing

Exclusive licence – This may enable the licensee to use copyright protected work to the exclusion of all others or within certain markets/sectors (and for a limited amount of time). A non-exclusive licence allows the same usage of copyright protected work for multiple licencees.

Limited use licences – Permission will be given for a specific purpose, for example to allow an image to be used in a single editorial context, such as a book or magazine. To use the image elsewhere (perhaps in related promotion, or in an online edition), further permission must be obtained. 

In the images industry, licences are typically described as either "rights-managed" (rights for a specific purpose) or "royalty-free" (rights for a broad range of editorial and commercial uses, with no time limit, for a single fee). Royalty-free does not mean free of charge.

Creative Commons licence – This is often granted when the creator does not wish to charge for the use of his/her material but usually has strict limitations.