If you’ve worked as a contractor for any significant amount of time, you’ve probably seen a work for hire agreement. However, the agreement(s) you signed may have been missing key items.
In this guide, we’ll break down what is a work for hire agreement, situations where it may make sense to have a work for hire agreement in place, and common terms in a work for hire contract specific to commercial production.
But first, let’s go over some of the legalese and define what is work for hire.
Work for hire is any creative work that's copyrightable including songs, stories, films, television, and music videos where two parties agree the employer remains the copyright owner. The term work for hire stems from copyright law and is a shorthand version of “work made for hire” penned in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 applied towards work created by an independent contractor or during the course of someone’s job as an employee.
With work for hire, the employer owns the copyright and publishing rights for a piece. In other words, the employer commissions a contractor or an employee and keeps ownership per work for hire copyright law and the work for hire agreement.
Seems obvious, right?
A work for hire agreement is a written contract between an employer and an independent contractor (or contracted team or employee) to complete services in exchange for money. The agreement should outline the expectations and scope of the project.
Download our work for hire agreement template so you can read along as we cover each section.
Now, not every project needs a work for hire form.
An employee’s contract can state their work is subject to work for hire. However, that doesn’t mean there is a separate work for hire agreement in place. Hiring agreements often will explicitly state the employer retains all intellectual property generated during someone’s employment — essentially a work for hire clause.
But what about independent contractors (or those who contract out teams or companies for specific services)?
Yes, they’re going to need a work for hire agreement.
Whether you’re working as an independent contractor or hiring one, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a work for hire agreement form in place.
Keep in mind though, the specific requirements for who classifies as an independent contractor (and the worker classification tests such as ABC) varies by state. This includes work for hire agreements in California where AB-2257 designates most musicians as contractors.
In California though, you may be subject to providing unemployment and workers compensation insurance for contractors. Have questions about this? Reach out to us anytime.
Keep track of your work for hire forms, tax forms, and any other information you need to stay prepared and remain compliant. If you’re already using Wrapbook as your payroll solution, store, create, or send out your work for hire agreement within the software.
You can also export this contract and all other agreements out of Wrapbook to save to your drive or desktop.
Now let’s take a look at common sections you’ll find inside many agreements, including our work for hire agreement template.
Keep in mind though, forms can vary and the order of terms may change, so be sure to check with a lawyer before sending or signing any work for hire contracts.
Who’s involved in this agreement? Each party should be clearly identified and the top section should include any basic information regarding what’s being created and who’s creating it.
The first thing any work for hire agreement should include is:
From there, a work for hire agreement can go into specific terms that apply to a production.
This part of the agreement is essentially a work for hire form containing specific terms that must be filled out including…
This section provides a brief description of the work to be completed by someone contracted to do work for hire.
Media gives you the opportunity to specifically state all current or potential future media are covered by this work for hire contract.
Term specifies whether the work for hire agreement lasts in perpetuity or a mentioned date.
Territory defines what countries or continents will the production be distributed.
Here an employer can highlight the artist or company’s fee (whether it’s hourly or a flat rate) and when/where they can expect to receive payment when fulfilling a work for hire contract.
Credit confirms how they’ll be credited in the beginning or end sequence of your production.
Now let’s look at the general terms of this work for hire agreement template.
This term specifically refers to Section 101(2) of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 and that the producer will be the copyright and IP rights owner worldwide (and that foreign copyright laws do not apply).
The general terms covering credit can also state that the artist may receive credit for the production, but failure to not provide credit doesn’t violate the work for hire agreement.
This statement can specify that expenses must be pre-approved by the producer whether it’s kit fees or other expenses. However, the artist must provide receipts as proof.
Here you can also explicitly mention:
The definition of independent contractor will depend on whether the agreement is with an individual or contracting a team to work on a production.
In our work for hire agreement template, you can insert either paragraph as you see fit depending on the situation (but be sure to check with a lawyer if you have any questions).
This general term ensures a contractor agrees to only participate in publicity approved by the producer. The artist or contractor’s likeness in any footage captured during production can also be used by the producer at their discretion to promote the project.
This section serves as a waiver to 17 U.S. Code § 106A. With this waiver, the artist or contracted company acknowledges they are waiving rights to attribution and integrity on any potential future claims including derivative projects and altered versions of the project.
Here’s another cover-your-rear term where the artist confirms they have the ability to enter into a work for hire contract and are in no other previous agreements that would prevent them from doing so.
This term specifies if a producer breaches the work for hire agreement, the only solution in court a contractor can pursue is damages.
If you’re going forward with a non-union production, you’ll need to acknowledge your agreement with a contractor is not subject to any collective bargaining agreement. Obviously, this won’t apply if you are hiring a SAG member or any other union.
Pay or play specifies the producer reserves the right to terminate the artist at any time (at will). The producer is only obligated to pay the balance of any compensation earned by the artist but unpaid by the producer at the date of termination. The parties will likely have a separate pay or play agreement in place.
Beyond payment, the producer has no obligation to the artist to use their services in a final production or ultimately release and distribute the project.
Here a work for hire agreement can define what state laws the agreement falls under.
This term states the producer reserves the right to assign the producer role on a work for hire agreement to any other party at any time.
Additional documentation explains that the producer may ask for the artist or contractor to complete other documents to meet the delivery and copyright requirements of a project.
This final general term states any alterations to the agreement must be signed by both parties.
Here the artist provides their John Hancock, legal name, and the date signed for the work for hire agreement.
Your project may require alterations to these agreements depending on a number of factors including where your production occurs. You may also need a different finalized agreement for a writer work for hire agreement versus a work for hire agreement covering music. Check with a lawyer before shipping off any work for hire agreement doc or other proposed contracts.
In the meantime, don’t forget to download our work for hire agreement where you can customize it how you see fit. And as you’re putting together your contract, your to-do list may also include documents such as appearance release forms and NDAs. For more free templates, visit Wrapbook’s Resource Center
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.
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