Copyright Ownership and Your Small Business 

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The question of who owns a copyright is usually a clear and straightforward answer. It’s the person who created the work. However, a special ownership problem is created when the work was created on a “made for hire” basis. This requires a small business owner to understand a lot about copyright ownership.

What is Copyright Protection in the U.S.?

Copyright is the legal protection of a tangible expression of an idea. This idea can be unpublished or published works of fiction, music, film or artwork. An idea can’t be copy written. It must be real. An author who doesn’t create their idea can’t obtain a copyright. Also, if they give away their copyright, they can’t sue later for copyright infringement.

What Does a Copyright Protect?

The copyright protects the expression of the work, not the subject matter. The publisher of the work receives exclusive rights to specific things such as reproducing the copyrighted work, the right to distribute the work and sue for copyright infringement. The copyright is valid for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after their death. If someone infringes on that copyright, the copyright holder may be able to recover damages and attorney’s fees.

What is “Made for Hire?”

According to federal law, the ownership of the copyright is with the particular person that created the work at the time. However, if the work is created under specific employment arrangement, the work could be considered “made for hire.” This means the copyright isn’t owned by the creator at the time of its creation. Instead, it rests with the employer. The term “employer” is a general term for the hiring party. The hiring party is one who pays for or purchases the creator’s work. It is important to talk to a copyright attorney in Dallas about the rules regarding an employee/author relationship regarding a copyright. If the employer has the employee sign a written agreement or contract, it must clearly define who owns the materials created.

Types of Made for Hire

There are two types of made for hire authors. The first is an employee who works on materials such as brochures. The work is created within the employee within the scope of their employment. The second type of made for hire authors is anyone who is commissioned to create the work. They produce the work based on materials or special orders provided to them by the business owner. One example of a made for hire author is an independent contractor.

Contact a Copyright Attorney about Ownership of Business Created Works

It is important to understand the distinction between an independent contractor and employee. In addition, a business owner must understand the type of language needed in a contract where they want to retain ownership of all copyright materials. Thus, they should discuss business ownership and copyright with a Dallas copyright attorney. They will assist in making sure a business owner retains all legal rights and stop anyone from using the copyright material.

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