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What is a "Work Made For Hire"?

A copyright is owned by the artist who created the work, unless the artist sells the copyright or the work was "made for hire." Generally speaking, work made for hire is something that was created by an employee while on the job, or by an independent contractor who was hired to create the work. The copyright on work made for hire belongs to the employer or the party who commissioned the work.

An employee who writes an article, designs a web page, creates a computer program, or draws an illustration for a company publication is creating a work for hire. Even if the artist is not technically an employee, if a court determines an employment relationship exists between the artist and the employer, the artist will not own the copyright on his or her work. If an employee creates a work on his own time, it probably is not work for hire, even if the employee uses it on the job.

A creative work that a party commissions an artist to produce is work for hire if the parties sign a contract stating the work is for hire, and if it is ordered for use as:

  • a contribution to a collective work;
  • part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work;
  • a translation;
  • a supplementary work, such as a forward to another work;
  • a compilation;
  • an instructional text;
  • a test or an answer key for a test; or
  • an atlas.

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Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

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