What Every Musician Needs To Know About "Work For Hire"

by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

File Under: Understanding Your Legal Rights

If you spend much time in the music business, it won't be long before you run into the legal concept "work for hire." It's both a contract provision that people will use when they hire you, and one that you'll want to use when you hire other people to create content for your music business.

While it's true that the law is a difficult topic to understand in today's music business, it's vitally important to understand this concept: what it is, how to use it, when to walk away from a deal that has it, and when to use it when you hire people or have your team do work for you.

About "Work for Hire"

If someone hires you to create music for them, you are the copyright owner of the music, not them. And you have all of the rights that come with owning it. The flipside is also true when you hire a photographer to take pictures; a graphic artist to design a logo for your online persona or t-shirt design, or any other creative work -- they will own the rights unless you ask them to assign the copyright to you in a contract.

The assignment clause is called a work for hire. This specifies that the hiring party is getting the copyright assigned to them as the copyright owner and that the person creating it is giving that up in exchange for the fee.

Professionals that do this kind of work will understand how important copyright ownership is, and will be familiar with the concept when you ask about it. Normally, a work for hire comes at a higher cost since the creator is forgoing future licensing fees, but that's always negotiable.

You will want to use a work for hire every time you hire or request someone to create something for your music business. And you'll want to be aware of what it does if someone asks you to create something under a work for hire contract. Note that if they don't specify it, the contract defaults to NOT being a work for hire, and you'll own the resulting work.

Example of a “Work For Hire” clause

The following example is written for you the musician to hire people such as photographers, graphic artists, and similar professionals so you’ll own the copyright.

The parties intend this to be an agreement for services and each considers the products and results of the services to be rendered by the [Photographer, Graphic Artist, Designer, Video Maker, Guest Musician, etc.] (the "Work") to be a “work made for hire” within the definition of Section 101 of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. 101). The [Photographer, Graphic Artist, Designer, Video Maker, Guest Musician, etc.] acknowledges and agrees that the Work (and all rights contained therein, including but not limited to, copyright) belongs to and shall be the sole and exclusive property of [Musician] throughout the world, without limitation, royalty-free, and in perpetuity, in exchange for full payment of $_______.

If for any reason the Work would not be considered a work made for hire under applicable law, the [Photographer, Graphic Artist, Designer, Video Maker, Guest Musician, etc.] does hereby sell, assign, and transfer to [Musician] its successors and assigns, the entire right, title, and interest in and to the copyright in the Work and any registrations and copyright applications relating thereto and any renewals and extensions thereof, and in and to all works based upon, derived from, or incorporating the Work, throughout the world without limitation, royalty-free, and in perpetuity.

Keep in mind the above is an example is for educational purposes only and “work for hire” language can vary in agreements. Also, note that whenever you use boilerplate clauses like this, you should have your own attorney review to make sure it works for your particular situation.


Once you understand this concept, you'll be ready to apply it in your regular business. In the next two weeks, we'll have articles that explain the best way to hire someone as a work for hire, and how to negotiate when you are asked to create music as a work for hire and the specific provisions that you should use.


#yourrights #copyright #workforhire #law

Photo credit: Nathan Stephens

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