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Work-made-for-hire: Who owns the copyright?

There are countless industries that employ millions of workers all across the U.S. But what happens when these employees create their own works of art, like graphics, logos, architectural blueprints or compilations for the company? Who owns the creative product?

The answer is - it depends.

In general terms, the individual who creates the work owns the copyright to it. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as work-made-for-hire situations in the employment law context.

Intellectual property rights regarding work-made-for-hire-where an employee creates a piece of work on behalf of a company-the copyright of that created work belongs not to the employee but to the employer.

As long as there is an employment relationship between the creator and employer, the work is owned by the employer-even if the artist is an independent contractor.

However, this only applies if the type of work in question falls into a certain category. Classifications can include:

  • Collective work collaborations, such as a motion picture or book where many different individuals contribute to the final piece
  • Supplementary pieces, such as an artist's work on an appendix or bibliography to a text
  • Translations works, such as an interpreter's language translation of a piece

If the creative work does not fall into these categories, a contract is typically needed to outline specific ownership rights.

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