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Licensing Copyrighted Content

Obtaining Permission to Use a Copyrighted Work

Copyright law dictates that purchasing a copy of a work, such as a book, scientific journal, magazine or a newspaper, does not give the buyer the right to make any copyright-sensitive use of that work (even though it gives the buyer the right to dispose of the purchased copy however she wants to) – meaning that, although the purchased copy may be read or otherwise enjoyed, and may be re-sold, given away or destroyed, the work embodied in the copy may not be reproduced, publicly performed or otherwise used within the scope of the copyright law.

In the case where a copyright-sensitive use needs to be made (such as a reproduction for business use), permission can usually be obtained either directly from the rightsholder or from a third party organization that has been authorized by the rightsholder to grant the permission on his or her behalf.  In some countries, that permission is granted by law (a “legal license”) in exchange for a designated payment.


Collective Licensing at an International Level

In many countries, copyright collective management organizations (also known as collecting societies or “collective management organizations” or “CMOs”) license large-scale use of works on behalf of large numbers of rightsholders, collect royalties for those uses, and distribute these royalties back to rightsholders.

There are collective management organizations that specialize in different categories of works and creators. In the field of text and image-based works these organizations are called Reproduction Rights Organisations (RROs). They typically deal with the licensing of secondary uses of books, journals, newspapers and magazines – in both their paper formats AND their online or digital formats – and in some cases also with visual content such as motion pictures, photographs and illustrations.

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), the parent organization of RightsDirect, is an RRO itself.  There are RROs in almost 80 countries, ranging from sophisticated organizations with long histories to start-up organizations in developing countries.  Most RROs belong to the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).

RROs around the world work with different licensing models either required or permitted by their local copyright law. According to IFRRO’s Quick Guide there are three basic types of RRO licensing models

  • Voluntary collective licensing
  • Voluntary collective licensing with legislative support
  • Legal licenses

Some RROs offer a combination of features from the three licensing models. RRO licenses can also differ in the number and types of works they include, the types of uses they allow, and their geographic scope.


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