Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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1003.2 Distinguishing Between Authorship and / or Ownership When the Owner of a Website Hires a Third Party to Create Content for That Site

1003.2 Distinguishing Between Authorship and / or Ownership When the Owner of a Website Hires a Third Party to Create Content for That Site

When an employee of a business or other organization designs or creates content for the employer’s website while acting within the scope of his or her employment, the employee’s contribution is considered a work made for hire. In such cases, the employer is considered the author and the copyright owner of the website and the copyrightable content created by the employee.

In many cases, an individual, organization, or company will hire another individual or entity to create a website. In such cases, the hired individual or entity is considered an independent contractor and any authorship created by the independent contractor is authored and owned by that individual or entity. This is the case even if the hiring party paid the independent contractor to create the website, much like a bride and groom that hired a photographer to take photos at their wedding. In such cases, the photographer is considered the author and the owner of the copyright in the photos, even though the bride and groom paid the photographer for his or her time and purchased copies of the photos. Likewise, the author and owner of the copyright in a website may be distinct from the owner of the tangible copies of that website content, notwithstanding the fact that the hiring party purchased those copies or paid for the web designer’s services.

In such cases, the independent contractor always remains the author of the work created. That individual or entity may transfer ownership of the exclusive rights comprising the copyright only by means of a signed, written agreement that transfers or exclusively licenses those rights to another party.


• Wendy Genoa is a website designer who works as an independent contractor. Val Miller hired Wendy to create a website for his small business. Wendy created the copyrightable backgrounds, banners, and other graphics for the website, as well as the selection, coordination, and arrangement of the pages of the site. Val submits an application to register the website naming himself as the author and claimant. The deposit copies clearly indicate that Wendy contributed copyrightable authorship to the work and the application contains no transfer statement. The registration specialist will communicate with the applicant, because Wendy appears to be the author of this content and Val does not appear to be the proper claimant unless there was a valid transfer of ownership via a signed written agreement.

For further information on issues involving the ownership of a website or website content, see Section 1004.

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