There are hundreds of thousands of licensing laws in force throughout the world, but most fall into one of three categories: laws licensing people, laws licensing products, and laws licensing distribution. Governments use licensing laws as a way of controlling certain market forces, and as a means of equalizing opportunity. Licensing laws regulate the sort of people who can participate in certain professions, dictate how certain products can be used, and set rules about the ways in which certain intangible rights can be conveyed or exploited.
Licensing law is a facet of a country's national law, but is not typically an independent branch of law in its own right. Most of the time, licensing comes within the purview of a jurisdiction’s contract law, employment law, or intellectual property law. Licensing touches a great many areas, and comes in a variety of formats.
Any licensing exam or requirement is the product of a licensing law. Some of the most familiar licensing laws are those that pertain to driving a car. Most countries, and within some countries, individual states or provinces, have specific laws dictating who is and is not eligible for a driver’s license. Similar laws regulate who can enter certain professions, particularly doctors and health care workers, teachers, pharmacists, and lawyers.
Products can also be licensed in some cases. Licensing laws regarding products govern such things as who may sell certain products, how brands may be identified, and who may control the distribution of goods or services. Most of the time, these kinds of laws are designed with the dual purpose of helping product owners protect the intrinsic value of whatever it is they are selling or distributing and minimizing consumer confusion in the marketplace.
Trademark licensing laws work in this fashion. Under the trademark schemes of most countries, only certain people are eligible for trademark protection. A trademark prohibits other people from using a confusingly similar name, image, or logo to sell a similar product, but it also requires the owner to take steps to actively protect the trademark and avoid infringement.
Another common set of licensing regulations pertains to copyright. Copyrights control how printed or published works can be shared and distributed. These types of licensing laws govern how copyrights can be granted or temporarily extended for certain permissible copying. A filmmaker who is adapting a novel for the screen, for instance, must usually have a copyright license to the book’s content before proceeding in order to avoid an infringement lawsuit.
Music licensing laws and software licensing laws work similarly. Particularly since the advent of the Internet, music and software are frequently copied and distributed without authorization. Licensing laws in these areas sets out terms of lawful copying and distribution, and outline penalties for violation.