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LEGAL DICTIONARY

Work for Hire

What Is Work for Hire?

Work for hire is the legal term for a creative piece that can be copyrighted. The work can include stories, songs, paintings, sculptures, poems, essays, graphic designs, or computer programs and games.

In the U.S., the term "work for hire" stands for "a work made for hire" and applies to a piece of work created as part of a person's job or by someone working as an independent contractor. Under a work-for-hire agreement, the employer becomes the owner of the work and holds the copyright and all publishing rights.

Copyrights for Independent Contractors vs. Employees

When someone is hired to create a piece of work for an employer, they should first understand what their rights are. Under the law, a creative piece of work made by a company employee is owned by the company. If there is an ownership dispute, the courts will ask the following questions:

  • Is the work of the kind that the employee was hired to create?
  • Did the creation of the piece happen predominately during approved work hours?
  • Was the work done at least in part to serve the company?

Independent contractors who wish to retain rights to their creative work should get a written copyright agreement. Unless the contract specifically states otherwise, work created by an independent contractor is considered work for hire if it can fall into one of these nine categories:

  • Contributions to collective works such as magazines, anthologies, or encyclopedias.
  • Part of a film or audiovisual piece
  • Supplementary work to another work such as a foreword, afterword, chart, table, index, bibliography, appendix, or pictorial illustration.
  • Compilations of preexisting material
  • Instructional works prepared for use in an instructional activity
  • Translations
  • A test
  • Answer materials for tests
  • Atlases

Even if the independent work falls into one of these categories, a written contract stating a work-for-hire arrangement is essential in order to protect a company's rights to the creative work.

The copyrights to work performed under a work-for-hire agreement belong to the company from the moment the creation process begins. Even if the work is never completed, the company owns the rights to whatever has been finished.

What Is in a Work-for-Hire Agreement?

Without a signed legal agreement in place, a client who purchases a creative work may not legally own the piece. For example, this situation would be problematic if a writer sold the same article to several publishers, who each think they have the right to exclusive publication.

A work-for-hire agreement typically includes the following information:

  • A timeline for the start and completion of the project
  • A detailed work schedule
  • Project milestones
  • Terms of payment
  • A pledge that the work is original and is for the sole use of the employer/contractor

For example, independent contractors in California face a legal loophole. California law states that any individual under contract for any creative work that both the contractor and employer agree to is automatically considered as work for hire.

Helpful Resources:

Cornell Law - Work for Hire

Outside GC - Common Misconceptions about “Work for Hire”

Owen, Wickersham & Erickson, P.C. - What is Work Made For Hire?

What Is Work for Hire?

Work for hire is the legal term for a creative piece that can be copyrighted. The work can include stories, songs, paintings, sculptures, poems, essays, graphic designs, or computer programs and games.

In the U.S., the term "work for hire" stands for "a work made for hire" and applies to a piece of work created as part of a person's job or by someone working as an independent contractor. Under a work-for-hire agreement, the employer becomes the owner of the work and holds the copyright and all publishing rights.

Copyrights for Independent Contractors vs. Employees

When someone is hired to create a piece of work for an employer, they should first understand what their rights are. Under the law, a creative piece of work made by a company employee is owned by the company. If there is an ownership dispute, the courts will ask the following questions:

  • Is the work of the kind that the employee was hired to create?
  • Did the creation of the piece happen predominately during approved work hours?
  • Was the work done at least in part to serve the company?

Independent contractors who wish to retain rights to their creative work should get a written copyright agreement. Unless the contract specifically states otherwise, work created by an independent contractor is considered work for hire if it can fall into one of these nine categories:

  • Contributions to collective works such as magazines, anthologies, or encyclopedias.
  • Part of a film or audiovisual piece
  • Supplementary work to another work such as a foreword, afterword, chart, table, index, bibliography, appendix, or pictorial illustration.
  • Compilations of preexisting material
  • Instructional works prepared for use in an instructional activity
  • Translations
  • A test
  • Answer materials for tests
  • Atlases

Even if the independent work falls into one of these categories, a written contract stating a work-for-hire arrangement is essential in order to protect a company's rights to the creative work.

The copyrights to work performed under a work-for-hire agreement belong to the company from the moment the creation process begins. Even if the work is never completed, the company owns the rights to whatever has been finished.

What Is in a Work-for-Hire Agreement?

Without a signed legal agreement in place, a client who purchases a creative work may not legally own the piece. For example, this situation would be problematic if a writer sold the same article to several publishers, who each think they have the right to exclusive publication.

A work-for-hire agreement typically includes the following information:

  • A timeline for the start and completion of the project
  • A detailed work schedule
  • Project milestones
  • Terms of payment
  • A pledge that the work is original and is for the sole use of the employer/contractor

For example, independent contractors in California face a legal loophole. California law states that any individual under contract for any creative work that both the contractor and employer agree to is automatically considered as work for hire.

Helpful Resources:

Cornell Law - Work for Hire

Outside GC - Common Misconceptions about “Work for Hire”

Owen, Wickersham & Erickson, P.C. - What is Work Made For Hire?