You Do Not Automatically Own The Copyright To A Work Just Because You Paid To Have It Created

Consider the following situations: a person or business hires an outside contractor to design a website or logo, to take some photographs, to do some graphics, to design a proprietary computer program, or even take some family photographs.  In such situations, who owns the copyright to the works created?  Most people would answer that the person who paid for the work owns the copyright.  But that is not correct.  The person who paid for the work owns the physical object that was created.  But the person who paid for the work does not automatically own the copyright just because they hired and paid someone to create the work.  On the contrary, the person who created the work – not the person who paid for the work – owns the copyright.  And to make matters worse, the person who paid for the work cannot legally make any copies of the work, and will be guilty of copyright infringement if a copy is made.

While the foregoing might seem strange, there is a simple solution: the person paying for the work needs to enter into a simple written agreement with the person to doing the work to make sure that ownership of the copyright ends up in the right place.  If the work is one that falls within one of the nine categories that are eligible for work made for hire status under 17 USC 101, then the agreement simply needs to state the work is a work made for hire.  If the work does not qualify as a work made for hire, then the agreement should simply provide that the contractor transfers the copyright to the person paying for the work.

It really is as simple as that, but experienced copyright counsel should be consulted for the language of an appropriate agreement.

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