What is a work for hire and when do I own what I create?

| Jul 31, 2020 | Intellectual Property Litigation |

No one knows when a great idea can pop up in someone’s mind, which is why many suggest keeping a notepad by one’s bedside, in case one has a great dream. However, many New Jersey residents may not realize that the timing or motivation behind creating work can determine who becomes the eventual owner of it. In order to avoid getting entangled in lengthy intellectual property litigation, it is important to understand the concept of a work-for-hire.

Though generally copyright law requires that the copyright belongs to the person who has created a work, this is not the case for a work-for-hire. When an employee makes something for their work or if someone was hired to make something, the copyright does not belong to the creator but to the ‘hirer’ or the person who commissioned the work.

For example, an employee who writes an article, creates a computer program, draws something, or designs something for their company will not hold the copyright to it. Their work is considered a work for hire. Similarly, an individual may be contracted to create something for another person, with a contract stating so, and the work used as a contribution to a collective work, a translation, or a compilation. In this instance, it will also be considered a work-for-hire.

One situation where intellectual property litigation can arise if there is a dispute as to whether someone is an employee or not. While the closer one’s employment relationship resembles a salaried position, the easier it is to determine the status of the work created, not all employments are traditional. These questions regularly come up in front of courts who have to determine the relationship between the two parties. Those who are unsure of who owns the rights to their work should consider consulting a lawyer to understand their rights, especially when signing an employment contract.

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