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What is a work made for hire and why should I care?

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Copyright law is not as simple a matter as it was before the digital age. With the arrival of the internet and the explosion of social media outlets, the possibility of copyright infringement is greater than it has ever been, and the need for copyright protection is even more important. Avoiding the first and achieving the second can be a complicated endeavor without skilled legal help.

Nor is this issue one that is restricted to just the for-profit world. It can also have implications in the non-profit realm. Read on to learn more.

 Assume that a copyright owner of music licenses every member of the choir to record and sell recorded music. Who owns the copyright to the recording? Is it the artistic director, the organization, or is it possible every member of the choir has a stake in it?

Legal observers would likely agree that the last scenario is entirely possible, and that could create problems unless each choir member signed something stating that recorded works are created as work for hire (or alternatively each member assigns his copyright interest to the choir organization).

Under law, the creator of a work owns the copyright. In the case of a recording by a community choir, the whole chorus could be considered the creator. Hypothetically, any member of the choir could then take the recording and distribute it as he or she sees fit, even if it runs counter to choir objectives.

By having each member sign a work for hire agreement, the copyright is retained by the choir organization, and its leaders manage how the final product can or can't be used.

Is there anyone who would argue that maintaining such control is unnecessary?

Imagine this hypothetical. You are a member of a community choir. There are many of them in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. It's the practice of your artistic director to professionally record your concert performances, because your group is just that good. Is there a paper trail that consolidates ownership and control into one harmonious voice, or has a failure to do so created copyright cacophony nobody wants to hear about?

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