Under the 1976 Copyright Act (as amended), works created and put into some kind of fixed tangible form are protected by copyright law. In other words, the author who creates the work automatically gains a copyright to the created work. The owner of a copyrighted work is generally the author of the work, i.e. the individual or individuals who created the work. However, there is an exception to this general rule know as a "work made for hire" or "work for hire."
If a work is "made for hire" under copyright law, the actual individual or individuals who created the work are not the owners – the employer is the owner. The employer can be an individual, company, or organization of nearly any kind.
A "work made for hire" comes up in 2 situations with (i) employees and (ii) independent contractors. In order for the employer to own the work of an employee or independent contractor, certain requirements must be met. Otherwise, the employer may learn that it does not own the rights to the copyrighted work, which can lead to all kinds of legal problems for the employer.
In this article, we’ll go over how a "work made for hire" can be properly created under copyright law with employees and independent contractors, the differences between employees and independent contractors under copyright law, when it may be better to use a copyright assignment, as well as some other considerations.
Next, we’ll explore the 2 situations in which a work made for hire can arise.