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Protect Your IP when You Hire a Freelancer

Upwork logo for post about freelancer work product and intellectual property

This post explains how to make sure that you own work product and intellectual property (IP) when you use a freelancer service. Most of the following first appeared on Quora. Please see How can I protect my source code and its Intellectual Property Right while working with a very large team of remote freelancers (Upwork and Fiverr etc)? Are freelancing platforms ensuring IP protection?

When you use a freelancing platform, you need to ensure that you have an agreement with each freelancer. And that agreement must assign to you all work product and all intellectual property rights.

I will explain this using Upwork as an example.

Create a Freelancer Contract

Section 3.1 of Upwork’s User Agreement states, in part, that the parties are responsible for putting such an agreement in place (emphasis added):

If a Client and Freelancer decide to enter into a Service Contract, the Service Contract is a contractual relationship directly between the Client and Freelancer. Client and Freelancer have complete discretion both with regard to whether to enter into a Service Contract with each other and with regard to the terms of any Service Contract. You acknowledge, agree, and understand that Upwork is not a party to any Service Contract, that the formation of a Service Contract between Users will not, under any circumstance, create an employment or other service relationship between Upwork and any Freelancer or a partnership or joint venture between Upwork and any User.

With respect to any Service Contract, Clients and Freelancers may enter into any written agreements that they deem appropriate (e.g., confidentiality agreements, invention assignment agreements, assignment of rights, etc.) provided that any such agreements do not conflict with, narrow, or expand Upwork’s rights and obligations under the Terms of Service, including this Agreement and the applicable Escrow Instructions.

You and the freelancer need to enter into such a contract. And the contract must ensure that you own the freelancer’s work product and IP!

Include the Right Contract Terms

Upwork provides Optional Service Contract Terms that the parties may use, if they wish. Section 6.4 of those Terms addresses this post’s central issue:

6.4 OWNERSHIP OF WORK PRODUCT AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Upon Freelancer’s receipt of full payment from Client, the Work Product (except for any Background Technology), including without limitation all Intellectual Property Rights in the Work Product (except for any Background Technology), will be the sole and exclusive property of Client, and Client will be deemed to be the author thereof. If Freelancer has any Intellectual Property Rights to the Work Product that are not owned by Client upon Freelancer’s receipt of payment from Client, Freelancer hereby automatically irrevocably assigns to Client all right, title and interest worldwide in and to such Intellectual Property Rights. Except as set forth above, Freelancer retains no rights to use, and will not challenge the validity of Client’s ownership in, such Intellectual Property Rights. Freelancer hereby waives any moral rights, rights of paternity, integrity, disclosure and withdrawal or inalienable rights under applicable law in and to the Work Product. If payment is made only for partial delivery of Work Product, the assignment described herein applies only to the portion of Work Product delivered and paid for.

In summary, the freelancer service will not automatically ensure that you own all work product and IP rights. Only you can make sure that you protect yourself!

Check out all posts about independent contractors.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law +1 510-547-0545 dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.