You may have a client who wants to use someone else’s intellectual property. Your client may ask you to help with gaining permission. This may involve a release or a license agreement. What are the differences between the two? Do you need either one or the other?
Though releases and licensing agreements are different, there can be significant overlap between the two. Therefore, what you call the agreement is less important than the provisions it contains, which may include elements of both a release and a licensing agreement. However, it may also be helpful to understand the different expectations of each.
A release is an agreement between your client and the owner of the intellectual property that if your client makes use of the intellectual property, the owner will not hold your client liable. One instance in which a release might be appropriate is if your client wants to use someone else’s image to sell a product. By signing the release, the other party agrees not to sue your client over a violation of his or her right of publicity or right of privacy. If your client makes a false claim against the other party, a release may protect him or her from legal action related to defamation.
Licensing agreements go by many other names, such as clearance agreements. In either case, they accomplish the same objective, which is obtaining permission for your client to use intellectual property that may be under copyright or trademark protection. You and your client may obtain a licensing agreement to use a song in a commercial advertising a certain product, print a logo on a T-shirt or produce merchandise of a cartoon character from a popular TV program.
If your client uses protected intellectual property without permission, this could represent an infringement of the owner’s rights. A licensing agreement removes the grounds for legal action against your client on infringement grounds.