It’s the internet age and many permission seekers wonder if it’s okay to get permission via an email exchange rather than via a more formal document. All contracts do not have to be in writing. Many oral agreements can be binding. In cases where an oral agreement would suffice, I would be comfortable relying on an email.
The grant of a non-exclusive license does not need to be in writing (although there may be circumstances in which you still want the non-exclusive license in writing). When you seek permission to incorporate third party music, text, artwork or other material into your production, you are usually – but not always – seeking a non-exclusive license.
There are other contracts that by law must be in writing in order to be effective. They include contracts for things such as:
- the grant of an exclusive license in a copyrighted work
- the transfer of a copyright, and
- the creation of a freelance work as a work made for hire.
For those contracts that must be in writing, I advocate a more formal agreement than an exchange of emails. There is at least one court that has ruled that an exchange of emails does not satisfy the requirement that the transfer of a copyright must be in writing. As we become more reliant on digital communications, that court attitude may change - but I wouldn't want to be the test case.