When it comes to determining copyright ownership, it helps to understand exactly what a copyright is and who can benefit from a copyright. Copyright is a form of intellectual property that provides the creators of original works of authorship with protection against infringement by competitors or anyone else who is not authorized to use, display, or present the work for profit. The general idea behind copyright protection is that painters, photographers, filmmakers, authors, and other artists will be motivated to continue producing if they know that no one else will be able to steal or otherwise misappropriate their work. Importantly, it is only the author of the work, or a person to whom the author has licensed their IP rights, who can legally claim copyright ownership.
To learn more about how to determine who owns a copyrighted work, keep reading this blog.
Who Owns the Copyright for a Creative Work Generally?
Copyright protection applies to most creative works, including films, book manuscripts, photographs, songs or sound recordings, and even computer software. If you have created one of these types of works, then it will typically be assumed that you are the person who holds the copyright. If you were not the author and you want to have the copyright assigned to you, it is best to do so in writing. That’s because mere possession of a work – even if it is the only copy of that work – is not the same as copyright ownership. In other words, if the author sells you the actual work (e.g., an original book manuscript), that might not be the same thing as selling you the work’s copyright ownership.
The bottom line is that, in the absence of a contract to transfer the copyright, the default rule will usually be that the copyright is owned by the work’s original author or creator.
Who Owns the Copyright for Joint Works?
A joint work is defined as an original work that was created by two or more people. Copyright disputes can arise when a work has more than one author because each of the authors is considered a co-owner of the copyright. This means that each author has the ability to license the copyright, as long as they share the licensing profits with the other copyright owners. It is also possible for joint authors to reach an agreement in advance of publication, or after the fact, to transfer sole ownership of the copyright to a single person.
Copyright Ownership of Works Made for Hire
In certain situations, it’s not the actual author of the work who gets copyright ownership but instead someone else who derives their intellectual property rights from the original author. For example, if the author was an employee who created a work for hire during the course of their job duties, then it is usually the employer who gets copyright ownership and who can profit off the work in the future.
Works Created by Employees
Section 101 of the United States Copyright Act addresses works made for hire. As set forth by the statute, a work that was prepared by an employee acting within the scope of their employment constitutes a work for hire.
Works Created by Non-Employees
What about works created by non-employees, such as independent contractors or freelancers? The federal copyright law stipulates that, in these situations, an employer may be the copyright holder of a work if that work was specifically commissioned for use in one of the following ways:
- A contribution to a collective work.
- Part of a film, video, or other audiovisual project.
- A translation of another work.
- A supplement to another work.
- A compilation.
- An instructional text.
- A test or answers to a test.
- An atlas.
Keep in mind that even if the work fits into one of the above categories, there should still be a signed agreement between the parties in order for ownership of the copyright to transfer from the original author to the company or other party. The presence, or absence, of a written contract stipulating that the work is, in fact, a work made for hire will go a long way toward determining copyright ownership.
Involved in a Copyright Dispute? Contact the Los Angeles Copyright Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
If you are involved in a copyright dispute, the Los Angeles copyright lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP can help you. Our legal team has experience representing clients in intellectual property cases involving copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and other IP claims. Call us now at 310-590-3927 or submit the online contact form.