408 Exclusive Licensees and Nonexclusive Licensees
An exclusive licensee is a party who has been granted one or more of the exclusive rights set forth in Section 106 of the Copyright Act, or any subdivision of those rights. Exclusive licensees are considered owners of those right(s) during the term of the license. A nonexclusive licensee is a party who has the right to use a work or an exclusive right in the work, but does not have the right to prevent others from using the same work. Nonexclusive licensees are not owners of the right(s) or parts thereof, but rather, they are considered authorized users.
The Copyright Act states that only “the owner of copyright or of any exclusive right in the work may obtain registration of the copyright claim.” 17 U.S.C. § 408 (A). Although an exclusive licensee who owns one or more of the exclusive rights is entitled to submit an application, only an exclusive licensee who owns all of the exclusive rights in a work is entitled to be named as a copyright claimant. 37 C.F.R. § 202.3 (A) (3). An exclusive licensee with less than all rights may submit an application by naming the author as the claimant.
As a general rule, a nonexclusive licensee is not entitled to be named as a copyright claimant or to submit an application to register a copyright claim, because a nonexclusive licensee is neither the “owner of copyright or of any exclusive right in the work.” 17 U.S.C. § 408 (A); see also 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “transfer of copyright ownership,” which explicitly excludes nonexclusive licenses). A nonexclusive licensee may certify or submit an application to register the copyright only if the licensee is a duly authorized agent acting on behalf of the author or a person or entity that owns all of the rights under copyright that initially belonged to the author.