“Throughout the Universe”

Fans of overkill—if you like from the beginning of time, you’ll love throughout the universe. You can find it in rights-granting language, as in the following example (emphasis added):

Client shall have the sole and exclusive right throughout the universe in perpetuity to use and exploit all or any part of the Properties and all or any part of any material contained therein or prepared therefor, whether or not used therein, in any format or version, by any means and in any media, whether now known or hereafter developed.

Unless whoever’s being granted the rights in question might want to use them in space, worldwide would be a more sober alternative. A quick scan of the SEC’s EDGAR system suggests that throughout the universe is often used in contexts where use in space would seem a remote prospect.

If use of rights in space is a possibility, then maybe using both worldwide and in space in the rights-granting language would be a less flamboyant alternative. But that raises the question of whether Mars or Alpha Centauri are part of “space.” If you’re asking yourself these kinds of questions, then maybe you should just stick with throughout the universe.

By the way, while this usage isn’t an everyday contract usage, it’s not particularly rare either. In the past year, 115 contracts containing throughout the universe were filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system. For purposes of comparison, during the same period 369 contracts containing from the beginning of time were filed.

[Update October 29, 2009: On recently revisiting the phrase throughout the universe, I realized that in my previouos analysis I had gone a bit too easy on it. The phrase occurs most often in contracts in which a consultant or employee assigns to a company all rights to any intellectual property the consultant or employee develops in the course of providing services under the contract. An example: “Employee hereby irrevocably assigns, licenses and grants to Company, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, all rights, if any, of Employee to ….” In that context, saying “all rights” is entirely comprehensive; adding “throughout the universe” constitutes needless elaboration.]

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

6 thoughts on ““Throughout the Universe””

  1. I took a look, but I couldn’t find the dispute about (I think) NASA’s supposedly unlicensed use of certain materials in space.

    In general, I think most people have assumed “world-wide” means “everywhere.” However, similar disputes have arisen for things like types of media–who would have thought digital, satellite (note, satellites arguably create copies of works during rebroadcast in space) or internet 40 years ago when licensing music.

    World-wide has in practice been understood as “without territorial restriction,” but for a guy that goes to the dictionary a lot, is that really the case? This is especially true for copyrights. Software, for example, might very well be used 30-40 years out for mission critical systems which may end up elsewhere in our universe–note no one thoughy mainframes would last as long as they have and the shuttle uses software an computer equipment from the 70s and 80s? [I’d love to be the attorney on that infringement case.]

    Also, why am I not offended by the “from the beginning of time” usage? In most cases, its more efficient and more reliable than trying to determine the time of the earliest cause of action. Overkill yes, but really is it that bad?

  2. We use the phrase “throughout the universe” to overcome the IP cases that interpret words narrowly in the advent of new and unexpected technological evolutions. Thus, in the unlikely event that licensing rights on Mars becomes available in the future, the language “throughout the universe” avoids the battle over whether Mars was included in the license grant. Eric.

  3. I had this phrase in a photo release recently. I re-wrote the whole thing in plain English. That phrase became “everywhere and forever” — which I think is much clearer than “in perpetuity throughout the universe.” For one thing, I rather suspect that some of the models would have thought that “perpetuity” was a particular place.

  4. Ah thanks, I was looking for that clause.

    You posted this across time (nearly two years ago now), so what’s so un-sober about crossing space?

    I first saw this language in reality television contracts, and it made perfect sense to me for anything that might ever be broadcast. A tv or radio signal transmitted the day you wrote this will have traveled 2 light years into space by now.


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