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© 2009-2019 Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law

“Work Made for Hire” Can Convert a Contractor to an Employee

California Labor Code, whcih can convert a contractor to an employeeIn 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.)

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Who Owns My Text Messages?

Quora logo

This post is adapted from the answer that I provided to a Quora question, “Who owns our text messages?”

To start, I wondered what it means to “own” a text message. Black’s Law Dictionary provides such definitions as “have good legal title”, “hold as property” and “possess”. I don’t think the questioner had these in mind, so I think it is correct to focus on ownership of any copyright that may subsist in text messages.

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Court Says Tech Startups Special re Works Made for Hire

In a recently-decided case (JustMed v. Byce), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that a software developer was an employee, rather than an independent contractor, even though the parties had completed almost no employment-related paperwork.

Byce took over development of JustMed’s software from an employee who had moved out of state. Byce’s compensation – the same as his predecessor’s – was 15,000 shares of JustMed stock (valued at $0.50 per share) per month.

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Work Made for Hire – a Term Made for Confusion

Logo of the US Copyright Office, symbolizing a work made for hireAs 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.

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