Skip to main content

11. How is an assignment of copyright different from a licence of copyright?

An assignment is a transfer of ownership of copyright from the copyright owner (the "assignor") to another party (the "assignee"), with the effect that the latter will become the new copyright owner. This is analogous to the sale of a flat whereby the buyer becomes the new owner of the flat. An assignment of copyright is not effective unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor.


In contrast, a licence does not transfer ownership of copyright. It is an agreement whereby the copyright owner of a work (the "licensor") grants another party (the "licensee") the right to carry out certain specific acts in relation to the work (e.g. to make copies of the work, or to distribute copies of the work in the market) for an agreed period of time. A licence is analogous to the renting of a flat whereby the tenant is granted permission to use the flat for an agreed period of time.


A licence can be exclusive or non-exclusive. An exclusive licence is one where the licensed right is exercisable only by the licensee and no one else (including the licensor). To be effective, an exclusive licence must be in writing signed by or on behalf of the copyright owner. An exclusive licensee has, except against the copyright owner, the same legal rights and remedies as if the licence had been an assignment (see section 112 of the Copyright Ordinance). A licence which is not an exclusive licence is referred to as a non-exclusive licence.