Copyrights protect the expression of an author’s ideas.  They apply to materials such as articles, white papers, manuals, brochures, and computer software.  Copyright protection is automatically available when a work is created, and no copyright notice or filing is required.  However, using a copyright notice and registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office will provide additional remedies if enforcement becomes necessary.  A notice at the beginning of the work, such as “© 2009 by John Smith, Inc.,” will suffice. 

Problems with Independent Contractors 

One potential trouble area is ownership of copyrights.  Generally, copyrightable work developed by employees in the course of employment will be owned by the employer, but copyrightable work developed by an independent contractor will be owned by the contractor unless the parties agree otherwise.  If the contractor owns the work, the company that hired the contractor will have a license to use the work, but the scope of the license may not be clear.  It may seem counterintuitive that the contractor will own the copyright when the company is paying the contractor to create the work, but that is the result under the copyright law unless the parties agree otherwise. 

The bottom line:  The company should have a written agreement with all independent contractors, clearly stating that the company will own the copyrights in all works created under the contract.  There should also be an employee invention agreement as described above to cover the employer’s ownership of the copyright in all work created by employees.

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