What To Do if Someone Wants To Have You Sign a "Work For Hire" Agreement

by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

File Under: Understanding Your Legal Rights

This article is part of a series on Work For Hire agreements: What Every Musician Needs To Know About Work For Hire.

As we talked about last week in What Every Musician Needs To Know About Work For Hire, if someone wants to hire you under a "work for hire" agreement, they are asking you to assign the copyright in the music to them and give up all of the rights that come with owning it.

The best option is for you to keep the copyright ownership in any work you create, even when commissioned, because of all of the ways you can monetize the work afterwards. So before you agree to a work for hire, understand there are many ways to creatively license it to them so that they can do what they need to with the music while you keep the rights. These future income streams can be lucrative enough that some musicians even make music for free (while specifying a limited use) in the hopes that a TV show or movie might hit it big and give them more income streams afterwards. (And if you want more ideas of these provisions, see the Your Rights chapter of the The Indie Band Survival Guide).

That said, if someone hiring you to make music for them want to specify a work for hire, you should do the following:

1. Set up an an extra up-front cost in exchange for giving up these future income streams.

The extra amount you charge needs to make up for the fact that you are giving up future publishing and licensing fees. Then, it will be up to them to make up that amount of money in the future licensing and performance royalties. If you know what the extra fee you will charge ahead of time, it will help your negotiation.

2. Understand the contract terms you can still work with outside of the work for hire.

There are other terms outside of the work for hire that are related to this during the negotiation. For example, the agreement may specify the final deliverable you produce for them might be just a single mix. While they own this song, they might not ask for or want the original recording and files so that if they want to change the song they'd have to come back to you to do more work. Since most people hiring musicians don't have DAWs or music software, they may be fine with this. If they want all of the original files as well, you can make this another term of the contract, and, perhaps, another fee.

Also, as we talked about in Here’s What You Own & What You Can Earn From Your Music, you own both the sound recording and the composition. Both are separate ownership and would need to be licensed. Similar to the above this might be included or be a separate fee, depending on what the person hiring you needs or wants out of the work.

3. Specify the attribution.

Note that even if you transfer the copyright, you can still specify in the contract that you get attribution, which means they must still credit you as being the composer even though they own the copyright and have rights to use it.

Remember that negotiating a contract is also a very creative process. Nothing is fixed when it comes to music agreements, so be clever in what you ask for. The key is to get full financial value out of the work that you create. For instance, you can create flexible licensing provisions to get them what they need without having to sign a work for hire. You never know what you might get -- you just need to ask.


#yourrights #copyright #workforhire #law

Photo credit: Jason Feehan

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