Independent Contractors: How to Assign Copyrights
After reading If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will, a (non-lawyer) friend wrote: “I work with subcontractors on a regular basis in the creative area (photographers, graphic artists, website designers, etc.).? Do you know where I can find a sample [copyright assignment provision]?”
Copyright: Why You Need Presence of Mind about Present Assignments
In Independent Contractors: How to Assign Copyrights, I provided sample language for an independent contractor’s assignment of copyrights to a client. This post explains why the present assignment aspect of that language is critical.
Here (with emphasis added) is the relevant portion of the pivotal sentence:
Contractor hereby irrevocably assigns, transfers and conveys to Client all of its right, title and interest in and to the Deliverables, including complete, unconditional and worldwide ownership of all intellectual property rights in any draft or final version of the Deliverables.
Sometimes You *Shouldn’t* Assign All Rights
I have written, on several occasions, about the importance of assigning copyrights (and other intellectual property rights) when work is done by an independent contractor. (See, e.g., Independent Contractors: How to Assign Copyrights.) Sometimes, however – as suggested in a comment to What is a Derivative Work, and Why should I Care? – it is appropriate not to assign all rights.
Present Assignment is Important for Patents, Too
In “Copyright: Why You Need Presence of Mind about Present Assignments“, I wrote about why copyright assignments should be expressed as present assignments (e.g., “I hereby assign”) rather than obligations to assign in the future (e.g., “I hereby agree to assign”). This suggestion applies to assignment of patents, too.
A researcher at Stanford University, in collaboration with Roche predecessor Cetus, developed methods for quantifying Human Immunodeficiency Virus in human blood samples, and correlating those measurements to the therapeutic effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs.
Implied Copyright License: A Life-and-Death Example
Several months ago, I wrote about the circumstances under which courts will find an implied copyright license if there has not been an assignment of copyright. (If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will) In a recent case (Estate of Hevia v. Portrio Corp.), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that there was an implied copyright license in a partnership context.
The decedent, Roberto Hevia-Acosta, was an architect. Following his death, his estate and heirs waged an intensive legal battle against his business partner over copyrights in the decedent’s architectural designs.
Postal Service Stamp Infringes Copyright – Not Fair Use
Several months ago, I wrote that the “fair use” defense to copyright infringement often is poorly understood. The U.S. Postal Service illustrates this point. A recent court decision held that a postage stamp infringed the copyrights in certain sculptures and was not fair use thereof.
Frank Gaylord created, and registered the copyrights for, soldier sculptures in formation constituting part of the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
John Alli took a photo of the Memorial. The Postal Service paid Alli $1,500 for the right to use that photo for a 37-cent stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. Alli told the Postal Service that it would need permission from the owner of the copyright in the sculptures; the Postal Service did not seek such permission. (more…)
If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will
Almost a year ago, I wrote about why independent contractors (as contrasted to employees) own the copyrights in works that they create. As a result, a prudent customer will ensure that the contractor assigns its copyrights to the customer (Work Made for Hire – a Term Made for Confusion). This post discusses the implied copyright license that is granted in the absence of an assignment.
If there is no assignment provision, a court will determine that there is an implied license under the copyright. The rationale is that it would be unfair to deprive the customer of all rights in a work for which the customer has paid. The issue, then, will be the terms of the implied license. (more…)
Important Independent Contractor Agreement Provisions
I am writing this post because of a Quora question that I answered. Please see What are the most important provisions in an independent contractor agreement?
Independent Contractor Agreement Business Terms
As concerns business terms, the most important provisions in an independent contractor agreement pertain to the following. (more…)
“Work Made for Hire” Can Convert a Contractor to an Employee
In California, a “work made for hire” (WMFH) provision in a contract can convert a contractor to an employee. This post describes the statutory basis for this little-known area of the law.
Before providing details, I will note that the (likely unwanted) ability to convert a contractor to an employee will arise only under narrowly-defined circumstances.
- The independent contractor must be an individual rather than a legal entity (a corporation or limited liability company).
- The relevant contract must expressly specify WMFH treatment for the contractor’s work product.
- The contractual relationship must be governed by California law. (I don’t know whether any other states have similar laws.)
I’m One of Several Inventors – Who Owns the Patent?
A recently-acquired client is one of three inventors of a device that received a U.S. patent. She asked me whether she can freely license to an LLC owned by two of the inventors the right to manufacture products covered by the license. I replied “yes” – here’s why.
35 U.S.C. Section 262 says:
In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, each of the joint owners of a patent may make, use, offer to sell, or sell the patented invention within the United States, or import the patented invention into the United States, without the consent of and without accounting to the other owners.
Securing IP Requires More than an NDA
When it comes to protecting intellectual property (IP), non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are ubiquitous. What many entrepreneurs fail to realize, however, is that securing IP requires more than an NDA. For an NDA to do its job, the company must actually own the IP in the first place!
The most serious ownership problems arise when there is no written agreement between the company and the individual developing the IP. Depending on the nature of the IP (for example, whether copyright or patent protection applies) and whether the developer is an employee of the company or an independent contractor, the developer may own the IP. If this is the case, the company has, at most, a non-exclusive license.
Work Made for Hire – a Term Made for Confusion
As Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Criticism (1711), “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing“. That certainly pertains to the legal concept of a “work made for hire” (WMFH).
People who have some knowledge of WMFH typically believe that it means the transfer of all rights in a work from the creator to a purchaser. So, for example, if an independent contractor writes software for a company, then according to this belief, the company will own all rights to the software if the parties’ contract says the software is a work made for hire. This belief is wrong! The following is an explanation of what work made for hire really means under copyright law and how parties actually can arrange for transfer of all rights in a work.