If you're starting a new job as a W-2 employee after years of freelancing, you're in for a lot of changes. Most of these have to do with working conditions and pay, but one, in particular, can be a minefield for people in creative professions who produce written works, music, or similar products. The rights to those products tend to switch to the employer in a W-2 situation instead of staying with the creator because these products are often considered works for hire. A solid legal agreement can protect you and your rights, if the employer is willing.
What Is a Work for Hire?
In simple terms, a work for hire is something created that is within the scope of the employment. If you're a reporter for a newspaper and are actual W-2 staff (and not a freelancer), your articles are usually considered work for hire (as you were hired specifically to create them for the company). Independent contractors/freelancers may produce works for hire that the company retains the copyright to if the contract states that this will be the case. Normally, however, works created by the freelancer tend to remain the intellectual property of the freelancer.
How Does Work for Hire Affect New Employees?
So, this difference creates a problem for the new employee. If you're used to keeping your intellectual property rights, finding out that your new employer wants the rights for everything you create at the company can be devastating. You lose the ability to republish or reuse the works as you see fit, which cuts into your projected income when compared to the use of those works whose rights you retain.
How Can a Former IC Preserve Their Copyright/IP?
If you are heading into an employment situation, it is possible to retain your rights — but only if the employer agrees (and this is the main sticking point; many employers don't agree). If you are lucky enough to work for an employer who is willing to negotiate rights, you both need to meet with a lawyer who specializes in business contracts. You can work out all of the details from who holds the final copyright to how much you can reuse without permission.
The world of copyrights and intellectual property is a confusing one. A lawyer's services are necessary if you want to be sure that you have access to the rights you deserve and are granted by law. Don't assume you have to lose your IP rights — talk to a lawyer and see if your employer is willing to work with you.
Reach out to a business transaction law service today to learn more.