What type of work is eligible for "work for hire" status?

A work made for hire is a copyrighted work created by one person at the request of another and compensated by them. The most common example of a work for hire is a training manual created for a business. Section 101 of the Federal copyright code defines a work made for hire more specifically as either a:

  • Work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment.
  • Work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

Supplementary Work

A supplementary work is a work prepared for a publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes; and an “instructional text” is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and intended to be used in systematic instructional activities.

Work Done By Employees

According to copyright law, an employee is defined as anyone directly hired by a business for the purpose of producing money for the business. With regard to work for hire status, anything created for an employer as an employee is work for hire by default. This means that even if it does not fall into any of the specific categories listed in the law, it is still not your property to copyright. 

Work Done By Independent Contractors

An independent contractor is completing works for hire when the work is listed as one of the nine categories in the copyright code and there is a clear written agreement between you and the contractor. If you are working as an independent contractor, it is vital that you understand the importance of a clear contract that outlines the rights and privileges granted to the owner of the copyright.

For instance, if you are granting the company the right to use and reproduce your work, but not the right to sell your work to another company, you must clearly list this in the contract.