Ownership of Copyright in Works for Hire


Copyright Ownership Under Section 201(b)

Copyright ownership in works for hire is governed by Section 201(b) of copyright law. In certain situations, the creator does not own the copyright, and these situations are referred to as “work for hire.”


Employee Work in the Scope of Employment

In the first scenario, the creator does not own the copyright when a work is prepared by an employee as part of their job responsibilities and within the scope of their employment. In such cases, the employer typically holds the copyright.


Specially Commissioned Work

In the second scenario, a specially commissioned work falls under the “work for hire” category when it meets two criteria:

1. The work falls into one of nine specified categories, which include:
– A contribution to a collective work
– Part of an audiovisual work
– A translation
– A supplementary work (e.g., a foreword, map, or table)
– A compilation
– An instructional work
– A test
– Test answer material
– An atlas

2. Both parties, the creator, and the commissioning party, must agree in a written agreement signed by both of them that the work is intended to be a “work made for hire.”


In summary, copyright ownership in works for hire can be complex. It typically involves scenarios where employees create works within the scope of their employment, and in the case of specially commissioned works, there must be a written agreement specifying that the work is considered a “work made for hire” in accordance with the nine specified categories.

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