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Katie Lane’s Low-down on Work-for-Hire versus Assigning Your Copyrights

Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 21, 2016

Katie Lane illustrationAttorney Katie Lane recently addressed a question she often hears from her creative clients: what’s the difference between work-for-hire and assigning copyrights? Work-for-hire is a term which is frequently misunderstood, and confused with an all-rights buyout. Lane explains that a work-for-hire agreement means the client owns the copyright to whatever the artist creates: “From the very moment the thing is created, it’s owned by the client or your employer.” In contrast, when an artist assigns the copyright, the artist owns the copyright, and is selling that copyright to the client.

Lane further explains that for a work to qualify as work-for-hire, it has to either be created by an employee within the scope of that individual’s job (in which case the copyright belongs to the employer or firm), or it must meet one of nine categories, such as contributing to a collective work. Lane also points out that the agreement between the artist and client must stipulate that the work is work-for-hire.

Lane concludes by cautioning artists on the real limits work-for-hire agreements place on artists, such as prohibiting them from displaying the work in their portfolios. If a contract stipulates a project is work-for-hire, and the artist thinks it may not meet one of the nine qualifications, Lane’s advice is to negotiate before signing to see if the terms can be changed to assigning copyrights.

Lane’s full article, Work for Hire or Copyright Assignment?, can be read on her blog. The Work Made for Hire blog features articles written from a legal perspective for creatives, and includes tips on negotiating, reading contracts, and a comprehensive article on orphan works.

Illustration of Katie Lane © Dylan Meconis 2016. Used with permission.

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