Licensing & UCITA

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UCITA: The Basics

At first glance, licensing has little to do with copyright law. A license is a right, usually conferred by contract, that grants a person or entity permission to do something legally that it could not do absent the permission included in the license. When a license is involved, the licensor (the person or entity who grants the license) retains ownership over the items it licenses to the licensee (the person or entity to whom a license has been granted).

Usually, a person that buys a legally produced copyrighted work owns that work, he may "sell or otherwise dispose" of the work pursuant to the Copyright Act's "first sale" doctrine, which is outlined in Section 109(a). In other words, if you legally buy a book or compact disc, the first sale doctrine gives you the right to loan that book or disc to your friend. Libraries heavily depend on the first sale doctrine to lend books and other items to patrons.

With the increasing prominence of digitally-created works, however, many people that "buy" such works (such as online databases) never own those works; instead the owners subject the work to a license. In these instances, the license terms — not copyright law — govern how the work can be used.

The Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act ("UCITA") is a proposed law that, if enacted, would standardize the licensing of digitally created works, including computer software and online databases. A broad coalition of businesses, including libraries, oppose UCITA because it allows software companies to have an unfair advantage in determining the terms of a license agreement.

Licensing issues are intertwined with first sale issues. For more information on the first sale doctrine, please see the first sale section of our web site.


The following information will help AALL members understand the issues surrounding database protection and how they affect libraries and librarians.

Member Articles

  • "Negotiating Licenses" (Reddy). Discusses what licenses are, how they affect copyright law, and outlines print resources and seminars that educate librarians about the license negotiation process.


  • Licensing
    • AFFECT: Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions is a coalition of library, consumer and business groups that opposes UCITA.
      • What is UCITA?: A succinct statement about UCITA and why it is harmful to libraries and consumers.
      • Briefing Book*: A guide that helps librarians and other interested parties get involved in the fight to halt UCITA.
    • What is UCITA?: Comprehensive UCITA Information from the lobbying Washington Affairs office of nation's largest library representative organization. (ALA Washington Office)
    • UCITA: Clearinghouse of articles and information from InfoWorld magazine, whose columnist Ed Foster, has written extensively about UCITA. (InfoWorld)
    • UCITA: A Commercial Contract Code: Formal statement and explanation about UCITA from its author, University of Houston law professor Raymond Nimmer. (University of Houston Law Center)