Before we discuss copyright licensing, let’s just refresh ourselves as to the meaning of the word copyright. Copyright protection is given to the owner of original works they have written, drawn or composed regardless of whether it is published or unpublished. So when you think of copyrighting, you should be thinking of art, music, drama or literary works. Some other intellectual property items will fall under copyrighting protection as well but these are the main types.
Unless the owner of a copyright gives you permission you are prohibited by law from copying his/her work. The exact laws and the recourse available will differ from country to country. You can give someone permission to copy your work when you own the copyright if you grant them a copyrighting license. This can then authorize them to reproduce the drawings or music and distribute them, stage a production of your play, display your paintings etc.
The actual conditions of the license will be subject to a written contract. You should never use copyrighted material on the basis of a handshake or non written agreement as you could very easily end up being sued and caught in the middle of a public relations nightmare.
A copyright license will include something called a grant of license. This gives the person looking to use the work the right to do that. The contract will also cover who owns what, how long the agreement will last and the form of remuneration to be put in place and the terms agreed i.e. immediate payment or a percentage of sales. It will also stipulate any conditions that have been imposed on how the copyrighted works can be used for example the right to stage a production in theater but not to show film coverage of the same production on TV. Another example would be the right to reprint a book in a different language but not to make it available on the internet in the form of an e-book.
The contract will also have to state where it is valid i.e. a contract drawn up in the US may not be sufficient to cover copyright law in the UK and vice versa. It may be that you need a number of contracts, with each one written to apply in a particular geographic location thus taking account of the laws of that particular Country. It is very important that the contract awarding the copyright license stipulates the penalties that will be applied if the terms of the contact are broken.
As with all types of licensing agreements you should employ a legal expert in this area to represent you. If something does go wrong and you find that the legal protection under the contract was insufficient, you can then sue your attorney. If you proceed on your own, who do you think will foot the bill of any loss you make?
In addition to using an attorney or more than one if you plan on offering copyright licenses worldwide, you need to educate yourself about licensing. Take a great course and learn from someone who has put the theory into practice. Only then can you know whether the contract you are being offered is a good one or not!