Copyright is typically owned by the party who created or authored the work, unless the author assigns the rights, or it is a “work made for hire.” A work made for hire is developed or created by an employee whose responsibilities include authoring the subject work or by a freelance contractor who signs an agreement and is specially commissioned to create a work that is permitted to be a work made for hire under copyright law.
What types of works may be the subject of a work made for hire agreement?
In circumstances where the work is authored by an independent contractor (i..e., not an employee creating with the scope of his or her employment), Only limited works may be works made for hire provided there is a signed written agreement that they are works made for hire. Such works include those “specially ordered or commissioned” for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, A “supplementary work” is a work prepared for publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes, and an “instructional text” is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities.
Given the narrow and technical requirements of what may be a work made for hire, outside of those works created or authored by employees within the scope of their employment, it is best practice to seek the assistance of a copyright lawyer to ensure that the work qualifies.