Select Page


Protecting intellectual property can be challenging. The large quantity of online content often makes it difficult to identify original ideas and properly protect them. Even determining what is “original” is frequently difficult. This brings me to an often overlooked issue when it comes to protecting your own intellectual property.

Many business owners assume that the business automatically owns the work product when they pay someone to produce creative work or original content. However, this assumption may be incorrect if the person who actually creates the work is able to make a legal claim of ownership or credit.

Under copyright law, the author or creator of the work, such as manuscripts, sound recordings, and software programs normally becomes the owner of the property. And only the author or those deriving rights from the author can claim copyright protection. An important exception to this ownership is known as the “work for hire” doctrine. If a work qualifies as a work made for hire under the Copyright Act, then the employer is deemed to be the author even though the employee created the work.

In many situations it is clear that the work for hire doctrine applies. However, in other situations the answer is less clear. Often the best way to avoid a potential dispute and make sure you have unlimited rights to the work you paid for is through a written agreement specifically designating the work as being made for hire.

In addition to designating the work as being made for hire, you may also need to obtain an assignment or a license as a backup. The license may be exclusive or nonexclusive depending on the circumstances. If there is any doubt over about your right to the work product you pay for, it is usually best to consult with a lawyer familiar with copyrights and the work for hire doctrine.