COMMON LEGAL QUESTIONS
-Work Made For Hire Agreement:
Q: Do I own my work or does someone else own it?
If I hire someone to work for me, how do I make sure that I keep the copyright to the work?
A: Generally speaking, if you signed a work made for hire agreement, the company or person who hired you owns the copyright to the work you created. So, it follows that if you wish to own the copyright to a work that you are paying someone else to create, you must have the creative individual sign a work made for hire agreement drafted by an attorney before they create the work.
There is an exception to this general rule. If the creative individual is an employee of the employer or company who is paying for the creative work, the employer or company automatically owns the copyright to the work. However, the question of who is an employee is not a simple one, and requires a thorough fact specific legal analysis to make that determination. I strongly encourage you to seek legal advice before paying a creative individual to create a work for you, so you can protect your rights and avoid a misunderstanding that may result in costly litigation.
- Joint Author Agreement:
Q: We’ve been friends for years and we trust each other, do we really need an agreement?
A: Yes. Under the US Copyright Act, the default percentage of ownership of two or more parties who intend to create a single work, is equal parts regardless of who did more work. So, if you wish any other arrangement of copyright ownership, you need a well drafted joint author agreement. With everything spelled out clearly in an agreement you can create works and still remain friends.
Q: If I own all the equipment and gear, is it my band?
A: No. You may own the equipment and gear, but the other rights and responsibilities of the band and the members must be clearly stated in a well drafted band agreement. It will save everyone time, money and friendships.
Q: If I did the most work and wrote all the music and the others just added some words and the solos, do I own the songs?
A: No. See the above discussion of Copyright and the default rules for joint authorship. With music there are different rights and additional rules to consider when drafting the band agreement that will clearly spell out ownership of the copyright to the songs.
Q: What happens if or when the band breaks up?
A: If you have a well drafted band agreement it will clearly state each band member's rights and responsibilities when the band breaks up.
Q: Who can still use the name? Who owns the songs?
A: See the band agreement for who can use the name after the band breaks up.
Q: Why should I register my work with the US Copyright Office?
A: You should register your work because one of the many benefits it will
provide is protection from copyright infringement, by permitting you to
sue anyone who may be infringing your work in federal court.
Q: What works can I register?
A: For a complete discussion and current information about what type of works you can register see: http://copyright.gov/
Q: I have this great idea for a book, play, movie, television show, comic book. Can I register my idea to prevent someone from stealing it?
A: No. You cannot register an idea (no matter how good it is). You can only register the copyright to the expression of an idea. So, take that great idea and create a comic, novel, screenplay, stage play, opera, musical, painting, sculpture etc. Then you can register your expression of the idea.
Q: I've been asked to license my work for print, film or television. What does this mean?
A: Congratulations, someone wants your permission to use your work in their work and may even be willing to pay you. It means you need a well drafted license agreement that clearly states the terms of how, where, and when your work can be used by the other party to the agreement.
Q: Do I still own my work if I do license it?
A: Yes. Generally speaking when you license your work, you are granting permission to use your work for an agreed upon time, place and form and are not selling it to the other party to the agreement.
Q: I've been asked to sign a release or a waiver for my work to appear in print, a film, or television. What does this mean?
A: A release usually means you are being asked to permit someone to use your work for free and to promise not to sue them for infringement for using your work. I believe that no one should sign a release or a waiver without consulting an attorney. You must fully understand what rights and benefits you are releasing or waiving.
Q: Will I get paid more money if the book, film or television show is a hit?
A: No. If you sign a release or waiver, you are signing away any future rights to your work's participation in the book, movie or television show.
This information is provided for general
informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.
Your specific answers to all of these questions are best addressed during a consultation with an experienced attorney, who can discuss your specific facts, and can provide the correct legal advice.