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Work for hire

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Work for hire: who owns copyright?

One of the most confusing aspects of professional writing is the copyright law. Generally you would think that whoever wrote it, painted it, built it, drew it, or otherwise created it, is the owner.


Not necessarily so.


There’s a small clause called “work for hire” in the 1976 Copyright Act. It provides that even though someone creates a work, the copyright is owned by his employer, who is considered the author. Even if the employer couldn’t write his way out of a rotten whale’s belly, he is still the author. The independent contractor is probably safe; however, good legal advice is the best route.


How do you determine if a work is made for hire?


The copyright law says the determination is made by the relationship between the parties; again, good legal advice is the best route. Definitions may include who determines how the work is done, where it is done and who provides the equipment and means to create the work.


The employer may control the employee’s schedule, require the employee to perform other assignments, determine method of payments and/or has the right to hire the employee’s assistants.


Other factors may also come into play, such as a software program created by a staff programmer for a computer company, a newspaper article written by a staff journalist, a musical arrangement written for a music company by a salaried arranger on its staff or a sound recording created by the salaried staff of a record company.


The Copyright Office has a Web site, and will fax materials to those calling (202)7072600. Call the Public Information Office at (202) 707-30000; write to the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, Public Information Office, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington DC 20559-6000.