We know that the author of any copyrightable work automatically owns the copyright to that work by virtue of having fixed the work in a tangible medium. But what about the company who hires someone to create their website? And what if that person is an independent contractor, and not an employee of the company? How can a company ensure that it owns the rights to the website it hired somebody from outside the company to create?
Work For Hire
Enter the Work for Hire Agreement. Copyright law, as far as Work for Hire agreements go, is split into two parts. The first part says that a work created by an employee within the scope of his or her employment is owned by the employer, not the employee.
Case in point: this blog, authored by me under the employment of Click Industries, is owned by Click Industries by virtue of my weekly paycheck. I’m going to run into legal trouble if I start a personal side business selling t-shirts with printed excerpts from the blog (not to mention the financial trouble I’ll run into when I realize that’s a terrible business idea anyway).
The second part of copyright law, which deals with independent contractors, gets a little trickier. The law says that that the work needs to be “specially ordered or commissioned” and that there must be a written agreement (ahem: the Work for Hire agreement) signed by both parties. The tricky part here is that this doesn’t cover existing works, or a work that has already been started—but it doesn’t explicitly not cover these types of works either.
The law can be hazy, and much of the outcome is determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis—as an employer or someone who hires an independent contractor, you should protect yourself with a Work for Hire agreement right from the beginning to avoid any potential hassles later.
Recommended reading: “What Every Publisher Should Know About the Work For Hire Doctrine” by Lloyd J. Jassin of CopyLaw.com