“Work for Hire” Agreements

April 1997
by Ivan Hoffman, B.A., J.D.
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Ivan HoffmanIvan Hoffman (photo right) is a publishing, copyright, Internet law, recording, and music attorney as well as a published writer and author. He practices in the Los Angeles area. You may reach him at ivan@ivanhoffman.com or 818/342-1762.


There is a military doctrine that says no matter what the facts may be, “just declare victory and get out.”

Unfortunately in the world of publishing and the acquisition of rights, it’s not as easy to simply say, “Well, we’ll just sign a work for hire agreement and that’s that.

The Rules

The copyright law places rather stringent restrictions on when such an agreement is usable, and the publisher that attempts to circumvent those restrictions may find that its rights are subject to being declared invalid.

The statute states:”A ‘work made for hire’ is–

“(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or

“(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. For the purpose of the foregoing sentence, a ‘supplementary work’ is a work prepared for publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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