Avoiding a Shoot-Out with Your Freelancer ‘Gun for Hire’

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

I was asked recently in my Forbes.com Ask An Expert column whether you could copyright something you didn’t write.  The short answer is “no,” unless you’ve carved out a “work for hire” exception.  This is particularly relevant for entrepreneurs who outsource to freelancers for their projects.

When you hire a freelancer to do work for your company, the freelancer–not you–is the owner of the copyright.  In order for your company to become the owner of the rights, you need one of two things (preferably, both):

  • A written agreement that states that the work being performed is done on your company’s behalf as a work for hire; and
  • A written agreement transferring any rights that the freelancer may have to your company.

The second is important because your contract may come under scrutiny and not have the right language for a “work for hire” (it can happen, especially if you download contracts from the internet).  The first is important because, without the “work for hire” provisions, your freelancer can sell the work to someone else, make changes to it or use it in other ways . . . all of which you don’t want.  For more examples of how the lack of “work for hire” language in your written contracts can cause problems, read my article, Why Guns for Hire Should Scrutinize Work for Hire Provisions, available on my GreatBusinessLawTips.com site.

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