‘Work for Hire’ or ‘Work made for Hire’ is the concept which does not recognize the creator of a work as the legal author of the work. As per the copyright law of the United States, the work created by ‘work for hire’ is the property of the employer rather than the employee who created it. The employer is considered as the legal author of the work and it is sometimes referred as ‘corporate authorship’.
It is entirely the decision of the employer to give credit to its employee for the work. Some employers like Adobe Systems, gives credit to its developers who developed Photoshop while Microsoft chooses to take the credit as a whole for Windows Operating Systems. But according to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, employees of both Microsoft and Adobe Systems have moral rights.
A similar system is seen in newspapers where writers are credited for their work and publishers credit the authors for their novels. But the copyright of the novel lies with the publisher. In case of journals, the publisher gets a ‘copyright transfer’ from the writer to transfer all author copyrights from the writer to the publisher. The moral right and right to distribute and use their articles in further work with permission of the publisher stay with the writer.
All these apply to an employer-employee scenario. But a freelancer or independent contractor’s work can be considered ‘work for hire’ only under some conditions. One of the conditions is that the work must be exclusively ordered. A written agreement specifying the work as ‘work for hire’ must be signed by both the parties. It should also fall under the nine limited categories in the definition of ‘work for hire’.
The arrangement of ‘work for hire’ can be understood considering the scenario of making a movie. A movie needs music, effects, scripts etc. but if the creators of these works deny the right to use it in the movie then the whole movie is jeopardized. Hence the producer of the movie makes sure that all non-employees comply with the ‘work for hire’ requirements.
An author can give the copyright of his work to any hiring party. But if is not a work made for hire, then the heirs of the author can terminate the hiring party’s right over the work. They can do so only after 35 years after the grant of copyright. If the rights of publication are included then they can terminate the grant after 40 years.
“Work for Hire” is a concept that has worked over the years for a lot of people. It is time to learn about this concept to prevent its misuse.
Below are four resources to help understand "Work for Hire":