Work for Hire and Copyright Protection

Note: I am not an attorney. The following are generalizations only based on my study of copyright law and are not meant to be construed as legal advice. If you have a question, consult a competent attorney specializing in copyrights and intellectual property law.

A work for hire is a work which is created and turned over to another person for a flat fee. No royalties for publication or performance are paid the creator, and the rights to the work belong to the other party.

A work for hire requires that a number of conditions be met. If these conditions are not met, the work is not considered a work for hire. Among the conditions:

Work for hire is not a terribly good deal for the musician, as he or she relinquishes all rights to the work and receives a set sum, no matter how popular the piece turns out to be. The other party owns all copyrights and even may earn money later from a different form of the work without paying the musician any further compensation.

Since a contract specifying this is a work for hire is a necessary condition to designation of work for hire, any musician who creates a piece at someone else's request probably retains ownership of the rights in the absence of a work for hire contract. Therefore, any commissioned piece, such as by a symphony orchestra to a composer, is likely to remain the property of the composer rather than the commissioning body. An exception would be if the contract the composer signs states that the composers gives all rights to the commissioning body.

copyright 1996-2002, Martha Beth Lewis

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