506.5 The Scope of the Copyright in a Work Made for Hire
Determining whether a work is a work made for hire has important implications for the term of the copyright, the ownership of the copyright, and the ability to terminate a transfer or license involving the copyright. See Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 737 (1989) (“Classifying a work as ‘made for hire’ determines not only the initial ownership of its copyright, but also the copyright’s duration . . . [and] termination rights.”). Therefore, the U.S. Copyright Office encourages applicants to exercise judgment when answering the work made for hire portion of the application.
• Copyright Term. The copyright in a work made for hire expires ninety-five years from the year of publication or one hundred twenty years from the year of creation (whichever is shorter). 17 U.S.C. § 302 (C).
• Copyright Ownership. The copyright in a work made for hire initially belongs to the employer or the party that ordered or commissioned the work (rather than the individual who actually created the work). In other words, if the work was created by an employee acting within the scope of his or her employment, the employer owns the copyright in that work (not the employee). If the work was specially ordered or commissioned as a work made for hire, the person or organization that ordered or commissioned owns the copyright in that work (rather than the individual who actually created the work). 17 U.S.C. § 201 (B).
• Termination. Under certain circumstances, an author or his or her heirs may terminate an exclusive or nonexclusive transfer or license of the copyright in the author’s work by exercising the author’s right to terminate a grant under Sections 203, 304 (C), and 304 (D) of the Copyright Act. However, these termination provisions do not apply to grants involving the copyright in a work made for hire. For a general discussion of termination, see Chapter 2300, Section 2310.