Royalty free licensing


Ok, noob licensing question. First of all I bought some art off someone and got semi stung when I learnt that I couldn't do what I wanted to do with the produced art, I did not own the rights to it and could not use it in any other location than specified, nor could I modify it or redistribute it.

I've looked up UK copyright law (most workers are in the UK), section 5 states:

Who owns a piece of work Normally the individual or collective who
authored the work will exclusively own the work and is referred to as
the ‘first owner of copyright’ under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act. However, if a work is produced as part of employment then
the first owner will normally be the company that is the employer of
the individual who created the work. Freelance or commissioned work
will usually belong to the author of the work, unless there is an
agreement to the contrary, (i.e. in a contract for service). Just like
any other asset, copyright may be transferred or sold by the copyright
owner to another party. Rights cannot be claimed for any part of a
work which is a copy taken from a previous work. For example, in a
piece of music featuring samples from a previous work, the copyright
of the samples would still remain with the original author. Only the
owner, or his exclusive licensee can bring proceedings in the courts.

That's ok, seems fair, error on my part, live and learn.

Now I'm hiring more artists and musicians, it's the beginning of the process and I've requested they all give me royalty free license for the work (2D images and music).

Am I correct in thinking that a royalty free license gives me the rights to:

  • Redistribute the work in multiple ways (all under the same company name)
  • Sell the work with my own license (eg, "buy this for £5 for use in your games etc")
  • Give it away for free
  • Modify it

I know the standard and genuinely best advice here is 'ask a lawyer' but before I flush valuable money down the toilet that could be used elsewhere I just wanted to ask to see if the answer was obvious or if anyone knows!

Do I need to get them to sign anything? Is royalty free the right license? At the moment they are sending me emails with the file attached saying I [Name] give royalty free rights to [Company Name] for attached items.


asked Aug 3 '11 at 19:23
480 points

2 Answers


While I am not a lawyer, you could possibly look at your contract language and see if you can add a "work for hire" clause.

A work for hire clause basically says that the person doing the work is doing it for the compensation received and that ownership of all intellectual property rights of the work being produced as well as any related or derivative products rests with the employer. It establishes a clear title for the employer for ownership of intellectual property (the images, the music, the code) and reduces chances of conflict or contest in the future. A chance of contested intellectual property or future claims is enough to derail a future acquisition conversation.

answered Aug 3 '11 at 19:51
Finance Mentor
688 points


Copyright is an automatic right under UK law, and doesn't always behave as you would expect - as you have discovered to your cost.

If you are dealing with the artist directly, you just need to discuss up-front what rights you need and get that in writing. So for instance, you may want all rights transferred from the artist to you in perpetuity. Or you may want a royalty-free license, allowing the artist also to exploit the derivative opportunities. Or... Well, there are lots of permutations!

If you purchased a work from the artist directly, and now want some additional rights, that's a new conversation. Many artists are more than happy for you to do this. And some will want to use the strong negotiating position they've been put in...

However, life can get really complicated in the case where you have bought a work through an intermediary. If you want exclusive use of the work in derivative forms, you may have to work all the way through the chain to find who has, or thinks they have, which rights in the work.

answered Aug 12 '11 at 04:30
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points

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