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Permission to use a piece of intellectual property is called a "License." This is the term used for copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret. A license is a type of contract that allows a party (called a "Licensee") to use intellectual property under conditions set by the IP owner ("Licensor"). Any use of the property that is within the terms of the contract is considered legal and not infringement. Any use that goes beyond the scope of the license agreement constitutes infringement.
If permitted by the license agreement, a licensee may be able to sub-license the intellectual property. Some license agreements allow sub-licenses, while others prohibit this practice. But in no event can the licensee pass along to a sub-licensee more rights than he or she has in the original license agreement.
Catalogs of Copyright Entries
The U.S. Copyright Office published the Catalogs of Copyright Entries from 1891 to 1977. These entries contain records of registrations only. They do not contain any references to transfer, assignment, or other kinds of copyright documents. There are 660 volumes arranged by year, cataloging period, and class of material. The volumes are being digitized in reverse chronological order.
Copyright Renewal Database
This searchable database from Stanford University Libraries shows copyright renewals for books published between 1923 and 1963, and renewed between 1950 and 1992. Only books (U.S. Class A) are included; it does not include any other types of work.
For a cost, "The Durationator" will research the copyright status of cultural works.
American Association of Community Theatre
This organization helps community theatre groups obtain necessary permissions and provides other types of resources and information.
American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers (ASCAP)
ASCAP handles the rights to music from over 200,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers. ASCAP also helps obtain rights from other countries through agreements with other agencies. Offices are located in New York, Los Angeles, London, Nashville, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, and Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.
A not-for-profit payment clearinghouse, founded by the Authors Guild, American Society of Journalists & Authors, Dramatists Guild, and Association of Authors' Representatives. Visit their website or email email@example.com.
Broadcast Music International (BMI)
BMI represents over 300,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. Like the ASCAP, BMI also has reciprocal arrangements with agencies in other countries. BMI collects license fees for the public performance of music, particularly for music that is going to be broadcast, used in restaurants and stores, etc. Offices are located in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Atlanta, London, Miami, and Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.
Copyright Clearance Center (CCC)
The CCC handles permission requests for both commercial and non-commercial republication. They also handle permissions for educational course packs and library reserves.
Dramatists Play Service, Inc
This organization has the largest catalog of plays in the English language, and helps to provide performance rights in the U.S.
The Harry Fox Agency
This agency represents the music industry. Fox’s list includes the largest concentration of digital music of any agency.
Their goal is to assist content creators in disseminating their work widely across the internet while still retaining ownership rights.
Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)
Provides public performance licenses for major Hollywood films to businesses, nonprofits, and governmental organizations.
Movie Licensing USA
This organization licenses public performance rights for films to public libraries and schools.
Samuel French, Inc
This agency provides performance rights for plays in the U.S.
Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)
Like sister organizations ASCAP and BMI, SESAC represents songwriters and publishers. SESAC headquarters are in Nashville, with offices in New York, Santa Monica, and London. With the advent of musical streaming, SESAC has become a much bigger player in the industry, and now licenses an increasing number of restaurants and other businesses.