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What Is a Work for Hire Agreement?
A work for hire agreement, or freelance agreement, is a contract between a freelancer or service provider and the person or company hiring them.
A freelancer may sign a work for hire agreement when they agree to give up rights to their specific services.
In some cases, workers provide products to clients that they then relinquish ownership of after completing their job.
For example, a wedding photographer may give up the copyright to photographs after sending them to the couple who paid for them. Likewise, a videographer may shoot a commercial for a company, then give up ownership of the footage after the job is complete.
It is not uncommon for an artist to sign a work-for-hire agreement when hired as a 1099 independent contractor in the music or the film industry.
Any work they produce for their employer in exchange for payment loses its copyright. However, the employer retains the right to reproduce, modify, duplicate, and distribute the work as they wish.
Here is an article that explains the principles of a work for hire agreement for independent contractors.
Who Uses a Work for Hire Agreement?
Anyone who wants to hire someone for a temporary period should use a work for hire agreement to lay out the scope of the work and important details, such as payment and contingencies.
Here is an article that gives more information about when to use a work for hire agreement.
What Should Be Included in a Work for Hire Agreement?
A work for hire agreement varies significantly by job, industry, and professional. Likewise, the terms, conditions, and layout of the contract to hire will differ greatly.
In some states, there is required language you must include making your document legally binding. This language is a technicality that you may not know. Still, a lawyer can help draft a sound document that meets your state’s regulations.
First and foremost, the work for hire agreement should express basic items such as:
- Who is the employer
- Who is the contractor
- Clearly state that the freelancer is not an employee
- The nature of the work being paid for (photography, videography, writing, etc.)
- Statement of ownership
A hiring party must avoid referring to a freelancer as an employee at all costs. Employees are entitled to benefits and rights from a company that a contractor isn’t.
Most importantly, however, is the statement of ownership. This clearly states that any work produced for you by the artist or service provider does not belong to them. Instead, you are the sole owner of all assets they produce, and you can use them however you see fit.
This is especially important for businesses that intend to use assets they’ve paid for on commercial products. The work for hire agreement waives the creator’s rights to any profits from future sales that incorporate assets they made.
Your contract should also include:
- Timelines for work: Establish milestones for your work and express these in the document to establish clear deadlines and requirements for payment.
- Payment terms: Express who will pay the contractor, how they will be paid, and how much they will be paid for their services during the allotted time.
- Termination conditions: Clearly state under what conditions you or the contractor may terminate your hire agreement. Make sure to note that termination before the end of their commitment still does not give them ownership of anything they produced.
You may also choose to incorporate requirements for the freelancer, such as sworn confidentiality through a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement.
Here is an article explaining more of what you should include in a work for hire agreement.
Image via Pexels by RODNAE Productions
Benefits of a Work for Hire Agreement
A work for hire agreement can benefit workers and employers alike.
In the case of an independent contractor agreement or IC agreement, the hiring party can establish clear, measurable boundaries and duties for the contractor and the scope of their work. This ensures no misunderstanding about a contractor’s role in the company.
A job agreement between a service provider and client ensures that the client does not also continue to modify the scope of a project without adjusting pay accordingly.
Ultimately, freelancers are their own business, and they can use a work for hire agreement to ensure payment and prevent client exploitation.
It’s also important to note that every project and company has specific needs to address before beginning a professional relationship with a contractor.
Suppose your business requires specialized products or services, or you wish to acquire ownership of something a freelancer produces for you. In that case, you need a hire agreement to ensure there is no liability down the line.
Ultimately, a work for hire agreement establishes mutual understanding and clarifies the nature and scope of the work to be performed.
Here is an article that expresses the legality of work for hire in the United States and its purpose in copyright law.
Work for Hire Examples
The nature of work for hire varies significantly by industry. This includes work produced behind-the-scenes for commercial use, such as music, graphic design, art, and written copy.
A work for hire agreement may be between just two parties or between a contractor and corporation. However, the fundamental purpose of protecting both parties’ rights and establishing ownership of produced assets remains the same.
These two examples can illustrate real-world uses of a work for hire agreement.
Example 1. A Freelance Musician
A small business owner contacts a musician they found online. They want the artist to produce an original instrumental track they can use in their advertising. This will become their trademark jingle.
They provide the musician with a work for hire contract stating what they want him to produce, timeframes for project turnarounds, and the total compensation.
They also make sure to express that the jingle he produces becomes the sole intellectual property of the business, including any future modified versions and reproductions.
Example 2. A Product Photographer
A company hires a photographer online to stage, shoot, and edit images of its upcoming product line. These images will be published in print catalogs, promotional ads, and on the company’s e-commerce store.
The company issues the photographer a statement of work through a hire agreement that outlines the nature of the shoot and requires them to maintain confidentiality about the products they see before they are released to the public.
Here is an article for more information on creative work and work for hire agreements.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Work for Hire Agreement?
There are many free templates online that you can use to hire a freelancer. However, as work for hire falls under U.S. copyright law, you may wish to consult with an attorney for a work for hire agreement to ensure that your document is legally valid and binding.
If you are an independent contractor preparing to work for a business, you may also look into issuing them a retainer agreement. This agreement ensures you are paid in advance for your services each month, and the agreement gives the company peace of mind that you will be available to perform your work.
Here is an article you can use to learn more about a retainer agreement.
Can I Get Out of a Work for Hire Agreement?
As with any legal document, contingencies may be incorporated to give either signer the ability to get out of a work for hire agreement under certain circumstances. For example, it is not uncommon to include a statement that either party can terminate the agreement without any prior notification at any given time.
In this case, however, it is important to clarify how payment and intellectual property issues will be handled. A lawyer can help establish clear guidelines, boundaries, and consequences for violating an agreement or failing to deliver work or payment.
Here is an article that looks at what a work for hire contract can cover.
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