Just because you hire and pay someone to write something for you (promotional and marketing materials, a software code or newsletter and blog content), or to design a logo or a website, or to take your photo, it does NOT mean that you own the copyright in the work product. Paying for it does not give you ownership rights in the copyright of the work. Yes, you do own the physical object you paid for, but you cannot make copies of it. It is the artist who holds the right of reproduction under federal copyright la
ws, unless the work was created in the course of employment (yes, on your payroll, not a freelance or independent contractor project) or you have a written work for hire agreement with the artist who created the work. To obtain ownership of the rights, simply enter into a simple agreement with your author or artist where you and the author/artist agree in writing that the work is a “work made for hire.” There are 9 categories of works that can be the subject of a “work made for hire.” If the work being performed is not on that list, you can agree in writing that the author or artist is transferring the copyright to you. This title transfer is done via an assignment of copyright.
I can’t stress enough “unless agreed in writing.” The only way to “opt out” of the federal presumptions is to do so in a written agreement. If you are in a business that will outsource many projects, you can work with an attorney to create a template document that can be used in a variety of situations. Thus, a one-time investment can benefit your business for years to come. A standard work for hire and copyright assignment is likely to be in the range of $250-$1,500. This investment is less than the cost of an attorney’s time to defend an infringement suit or negotiate a purchase of the copyright or a license down the road.