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Who Owns Your Copyright?

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Many small businesses (and their clients) would be surprised to learn who actually owns the copyright in works created under a contract. Do you know the answer? Read on to learn more.

The Default Rule

This part is pretty easy–the person that creates an original work will own the copyright to that work unless one of the exceptions below applies.

Three Exceptions

There are three common scenarios under which someone other than the creator may own the copyright to the creator’s original work.

  • Creations by Employees. When an employee creates an original work within the scope of her employment, copyright ownership will vest in the employer, not the employee.
  • Creations by Independent Contractors. When an independent contractor creates an original work, copyright ownership will vest in his client but only if (a) the work is identified as a “work made for hire” in a written agreement between the parties; and (b) the work is of a specific kind of work identified in the Copyright Act.
  • Transfer in Writing. When a copyright owner transfers ownership of the copyright in writing ownership will transfer to the transferee.

Practical Tip

In most situations, it is best for you to address copyright ownership with your client in your client agreement. Learn more about that in this post: Three ways to draft intellectual property provisions in a contract.

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Related Guides

There’s so much more to learn! Here are a few related guides you should read:

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