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Who owns your employee’s original work?

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2022 | Business Litigation |

You’ve just asked an employee to write a story to be included in a compilation of works that your company is assembling. Before agreeing to do so, the employee asks you whether or not they will own the copyright for this story?

According to U.S. copyright laws, “if a work is made for hire, an employer is considered the author even if an employee actually created the work.” In other words, you, as the employer, would own any work created for your company by an employee as long as it is created specifically for the benefit of the business.

Understanding the“work for hire” law

Usually, any creation made by an individual is their own intellectual property and can be copyrighted as so. However, according to Section 101 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code), a work is made for hire if it has the following three elements:

  1. The work is to be used as an addition to a collection of works, as a compilation, as a test or answer key, as a motion picture or audiovisual creation, as a translation, or as an atlas.
  2. The work has been specifically commissioned by the employer.
  3. Both the employer and the employee have signed an agreement indicating that the employee understands that the copyright for his creation belongs to the employer.

When an independent contractor has been hired to create the work, he must be considered an employee for the “work for hire” law to be enforced in the state of California. Ensure you make this clear to allow you as the employer to maintain the copyright on work made for hire.

Should you have questions about the “work for hire” copyright law, contact an experienced legal guide.