Who Owns What When a Copyrighted Work is Created in the Workplace

Employment Law

Something employers, employees and contractors don’t often consider is the ownership and attribution of copyrighted property created for an employer on behalf of an employee. Copyright has value, so the ownership of it might sometimes come into dispute. Clear agreements as to the ownership and attribution of intellectual property provide insight – i.e., any works created by an author as a result of the course and scope of that author’s employment with a company are company property. What happens, however, when a clear agreement isn’t in place? Who owns the intellectual property then?

The answer is fairly simple most of the time in the employer/employee context – copyrighted work created within the scope of an employee’s job is considered the property of an employer. This is called “work made for hire” under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, and no written agreement is necessary to delineate ownership. For instance, a…

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