Types of Copyright Licenses

Written & Edited by Bessey

When you create something new; for example, a photograph, drawing, song, software, a video, a trade secret, a story or a broadcast, the work is automatically protected by copyright laws. No one else should use, copy, distribute or display your work without your permission. You can add © to any original piece of work you have created. It is common practice to also add your name and its year of creation alongside it. You are visibly claiming ownership of your work.

Involving a license is to allow specified freedoms to others to use your work, for free, with attribution or financial gain. Choosing the right license for you involves examining which restrictions, conditions and permissions are involved with the license. This article will explain some of the most common options. This article does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended further research be conducted if you wish to procure a license yourself. Throughout the article, the term Licensor refers to the copyright owner of the intellectual property, Licensee refers to the recipient.


An Exclusive License means only the licensee has the right to use the work as set out within the terms of use. If the licensor wants to continue to make use of the work, or has previously granted permissions, these conditions will need to be clearly stipulated as the license being exclusive except for these carve-outs. It could be, for example, that one licensee can distribute, or sell, the work within a set area, and another license be granted to a different licensee to allow distribution in another area. Unlimited licenses can be granted, each with distinct rights.

Upon granting the license the licensor can dictate that particular targets are met regarding sales figures or development milestones. A licensee can invest in the development of the work for their own gain. The holder of each license has the right to sue if anyone infringes on the specific rights as set out in their own. There can be a time limit specified for the use of an exclusive license.

Unlike with exclusive licenses, non-exclusive licenses allow a licensor to offer the same license to multiple licensees. They also maintain the rights to use the work themselves. Programming code, artistic and musical works and the written word can be licensed in this way, enabling the licensor to receive a profit from their work without losing it for their own use.

They can retain the right to further develop the work and could potentially issue licenses at each stage of development. Distinct rights can be granted to different licensees for the same work. The licensee can use the works for their own gain. There may be a fixed period for the life of the license. The license usage can be terminated by either side if reasonable notice is given.

Sole License is an option which is identical to the exclusive license, but the licensor retains the right to make use of their intellectual property.

SUB-CATEGORIES that can be synergized with those above

Perpetual license allows ongoing usage. It is paid for once and the licensee then basically owns the work… The holder is free to host it. It can include a year of upgrades and support, sometimes with the option of renewing these year-on-year with additional payments. It can be used for software.

Subscription-based Licensing has been growing in popularity as an alternative to perpetual licensing for software. Licensees pay monthly or yearly. Contact is maintained with the licensor, enabling continued customer support, upgrades and updates.

A Transferable License allows only one licensee can use the license at any given time, but is free to pass it to another to use, who, in turn, can then pass it to another. They are free to pass on all or some of the rights. Once the license has been passed on, the previous holder has no right to further use the work.

TheNon-Transferable License restricts the licensee in that they cannot pass the non-transferable license, or any rights therein, without getting permission from the licensor.


Creative Commons License is free to obtain. It’s great for when the licensor wants to allow others to use their work not-for-profit, to copy and share it, whilst the licensors still retains the copyrighted ownership. There are several types of license under the umbrella term ‘Creative Commons.’

All carry the same condition that the creator is credited, ensuring they are recognized as such. Variations occur where the licensor can choose whether their work can be used for profit, can be altered or used within other projects. Videos, images, photos, music and songs, books and educational resources are often licensed under Creative Commons; creations which are posted on popular media sites.

YouTube offers all creators the ability to mark uploaded videos with a Creative Commons license or a standard YouTube license. Creative Commons is not recommended for computer software and hardware.

Royalty Free is for paying a one-off fee, so a work can be used by a licensee, without paying royalties. A royalty free label on an image, musical piece or video signifies it could be used, according to the terms of the license, for marketing, advertising or used in social media, both extensively and frequently.

Stock images are most often royalty free. YouTube provides a library of music and sound effects for creators to use in those regards. The laws of copyright still apply; the licensor maintains full ownership but also has to respect the provided licenses to the licensees.

Editorial License is used for non-commercial purposes only. Used for online and offline images, video, writing and photos which are to be used for news coverage and factual stories; for educational purposes such as text books, academic programs and scientific dossiers; for internal purposes, such as slideshows, and for personal use. Also used for 3D models.

An editorial license does not grant the user the right to use the property for advertising, merchandising or for promoting events that will generate a profit.

Open Source Software License is an umbrella term for numerous licenses that allow software code to be used, shared and modified, for new applications or included in other projects, according to the terms of the individual license.

It allows different creators to collaborate on a project, as the input from each individual would otherwise be protected with the usual copyright law. Open source licenses are generally either classed as copyleft or permissive.

Copyleft describes licenses that may be used, shared and modified, as long as the derived work is subject to the same conditions. Permissive licenses are not restricted in this way.

GPL- General Public License, also GNU is the most popular copyleft license. It allows software to be used, modified and shared. The derived works could be distributed for a profit or for free, but must be under the same GPL rights, including access to the shared source code. It allows developers to pass on their code as a gift that keeps on giving, without it becoming the exclusive property of any user. It must be made apparent that the shared content is not the original; the creator remains the copyright owner. The GPL Version 3 comes with tighter restrictions.

MIT is one of the most popular permissive licenses. It enables software to be used commercially, and comes with almost no restrictions on users to use, copy, merge, modify, share, trade, sub-license and publish derivative works. The same rights must be preserved in all copies. It is a simple license to understand. It protects the copyright holder from claims arising from damages or otherwise that may arise in the use of their property by others.

Dual or Multi Licensing is the option of using more than one license, usually an open source and a proprietary. This allows the licensor to benefit financially from commercial licensing whilst also allowing others to use the code. An example is GPL/MIT dual licensing.

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