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Exceptions to Copyright Ownership

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Is the Creator of a Work Always the Copyright Owner?
The traditional rule is that the creator of a work owns the copyright of that work as soon as the work is put into a tangible medium of expression. But, there are exceptions to this rule: 

Employees
If an employee creates a work in the course of his employment, the employer owns that copyright. 

Made for Hire
If an independent contractor signs a written agreement that says the work he creates is made for hire, then the person or organization who ordered the work owns the copyright, so long as the work is:

  • Part of a larger literary work, such as an article in a newspaper
  • Part of an audiovisual work, such as a motion picture
  • A translation
  • A supplementary work, such as an appendix or introduction
  • A compilation
  • An instructional text
  • A test or answer materials for a test
  • An atlas.

If the work does not fall within one of these eight categories, it is not made for hire and the creator owns the copyright. 

Sale
If the creator of the work sells the entire copyright to another, then the person or organization who purchased it owns the copyright.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Resolve My Copyright Ownership Problem?
If you are unsure as to your status as a copyright holder, an experienced copyright lawyer can help you determine whether you or someone else owns the copyright in question.  A copyright attorney can also represent you in court if a dispute arises.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-16-2013 04:14 PM PDT

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