UK Laws Governing Licensing
The owners of the rights in artistic imagery are increasingly realising that they are the guardians of a valuable asset, which needs to be protected in order to be able to exploited.
The laws affecting the licensing industry are mainly categorised as Intellectual Property Law (IP) - rights of ownership in creative works and rules governing how this ownership is protected. In the UK this involves Copyright and Trademarks.
Copyright, as its name suggests, is the right to copy and the right to prevent any other person from copying.
People sometimes talk, confusingly, of "copyrighting their work" but in the UK there is no copyright registration or similar process. It arises automatically and is owned by the person who created it, except when that person does so as an employee - in which case it will generally belong to the employer.
Contrary to popular misconception, if a person is paid to create a copyright work as a freelancer then the copyright in that work will belong to the freelancer and not the person paying for it. He or she only gets an implied licence to use it. In these circumstances the only way to obtain ownership of the copyright in the work outright, is to it express it in writing, signed by all the parties (an assignment).
It is in the interests of the licensee to ensure that its agreements with its artists are expressed in writing. In the absence of a written agreement there is unlikely to be any assignment and any licence will be limited. It also suits the artist to have written confirmation of the terms of payment, the right to receive royalties and the duty of the licensee to give him or her a credit. Most importantly the contract must reflect the parties intentions.