Copyright Law on Work for Hire

In business, it is crucial to understand the legal parameters of a transaction. Businesses that hire an independent contractor or require an employee work on a special project typically own the copyright to the work, but only if certain circumstances are met.

Work for Hire

Work for hire is defined as work made by an employee as part of their job for an employer. The only other definition is work made for use as “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.”


Freelancers or independent contractors are specially commissioned individuals who create work for a company. Work done by a freelancer is considered work for hire if it falls under at least one of the categories mentioned above and there is a written contract confirming that the work is work for hire.


The United States Copyright Office considers a creator an employee if the employer has control over the work, over the employee’s schedule and status over the employee (for example, deducting taxes from the employee’s paycheck, etc.).


There are a few determining factors for the authorship and ownership of the work for hire. Special commission, payment and control of the work for hire determine that the person or company who commissioned the work is considered the author and owner of the work.


It is important to note that copyright ownership is different from the ownership of a physical object. For example, if a collector purchases a painting, she owns the painting, but not the rights to print copies of the painting.

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About the Author

Based in Southern California, Daniel Holzer has been a freelance writer specializing in labor issues, personal finance and green living since 2004. His recent work has appeared online at Green Your Apartment and other websites. Holzer studied English literature at California State University, Fullerton.

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