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One of the primary advantages of being a freelancer is the freedom to choose your own projects. You get to exercise your creative muscles as you see fit. You imagine, you create, you get paid.  It’s all very epicurean. You are what Richard Florida refers to as a “Creative.” What’s more, the work you do now will generate residual income for years to come unless you give up that right by signing a Work for Hire agreement.

Before we get started, I’m including a sample Work for Hire agreement for you to review on your own. You can download the agreement by clicking here.

How Ownership of Creative Works Plays Out

Here’s the skinny: You establish ownership of a creative work the moment that work is done. You have the exclusive right to copy the work (copyright). In the United States, copyright protection goes into effect the moment your work is published. A few years ago, publishing a literary work required money, people, and a pool of resources that not many creative types had. These days, you’re published with the click of a button. The cost of publishing a creative work can be the dollar you pay to buy a small coffee at the local Wi-Fi-enabled coffee joint where you post a social media status update or publish a post on a blog. It’s that simple to publish these days. 

For all intents and purposes, “published” work is work that can be viewed, heard or experienced by members of the general public.  Everything online has been published and thus most everything online currently has some form of copyright protection. The primary benefit of having copyright protection is it prohibits others from using and PROFITING from your work without first getting your permission and cutting you in on the action. 

The operative word there is profiting.  In order to encourage creative freelancers and other artistic creators to share their wonderful works, copyright laws were created to protect their inherent rights as content creators.  Since your rights as a creator are automatically protected, employers who hire you to create something for them will often have you sign what’s called a Work for Hire agreement.

What a Work-for-Hire Agreement Does

Section 101 of the copyright law defines a “work made for hire” as:

  • A work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or
  • A work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

Work-for-hire agreements re-assign the rights of the work created. 

Without work for hire agreements, creative freelancers can be commissioned and paid for artistic works that never legally change ownership.  In exchange for some kind of consideration –whether money, influence or something else you deem valuable – you agree to relinquish any further rights to the work you are creating. 

Be forewarned…

Creative purists would have you believe that in order to remain a true artist you must never sell the rights to your work.  Instead, purists believe you should license them. They claim selling your work outright cheapens the value of the art itself. Of course, as a freelance writer and legal owner of your work, you have the right to do with it what you please, even if that includes selling your ownership outright.

Which is the better choice? 

Neither is inherently better. Make the choice that best suits your needs and goals. A gift like creativity is just that – a gift.  And it’s your choice whether you sell it today or license it tomorrow. Whatever your choice, make sure it best serves you.