Who Owns The Copyright to a Work?

Interestingly, the person or company that owns the copyright to a work may not be the same as the person or company who created the work. There are three reasons this could be the case: (1) A work “made for hire” notes a situation in which a company (or an individual) pays a person (or another company) to create a work. In such a situation, the copyright to the work is owned by the company hiring the individual, not the individual(s) who created the work. Although there is some gray area and there are exceptions to the rule, it’s safe to say that if an employee created a work under the scope of their employment, the employee would not own the copyright to the work, the employer/company would own it. But despite this principle, there are exceptions. So to our clients that have employees creating works on their behalf, Web Defense Systems recommends that they have each of their employees sign a work for hire agreement, ensuring the copyright to any work created by the employee under the scope of their employment is owned by our client, the employer, not the employee. Web Defense Systems can provide a work for hire agreement to clients who request one. (2) Copyrights can be sold and often are sold. A common and important example of this is when a band sells the copyright privileges of its work to a studio, or one studio sells such copyright privileges to another studio. At either point, the creator of the work (the band) would no longer own the work, and the band could actually be sued for copyright infringement if he/she published the work, obviously dependent on the terms of the original contract. (3) Finally, copyrights can be passed down after death through a will or probate court. In fact, the copyright to a work usually lasts well after an individual creator’s death, so if the copyright to a work was owned be an individual (as opposed to a company), his or her designated heirs will often own the copyright after he or she dies.

Disclaimer: The purpose of our “Knowledge Base” documents is to explain the basics of the subject matter in question and to provide some rationale behind the actions that Web Defense Systems might take on behalf of our clients. We are not lawyers, and the preceding information should not be used in lieu of legal advice.