You started a new business and hired a web developer to design your website. Who owns the website design? The determination is dependent on whether the site design is a work for a hire.
If you own a business that deals with any type of intellectual property, you have to understand the concept of work for hire.
In the above example, which I encounter frequently, the web developer will often claim in the contract that they own all intellectual property rights to the design. They are technically correct. If you fail to enter into a contract, the copyright belongs to the web developer. That’s why it is vital to have a contract with a web developer stating that it is a work for hire and assigning all intellectual property rights to you.
There are other instances were work for hire comes into play:
- An employee develops an intellectual property right. If you are a Google employee and you develop a new algorithm improving search results, clearly Google would own the ip. It doesn’t matter whether or not there is an employee agreement.
- You are owner of company and you have a work for hire agreement. You may be an owner of a start-up and have a separate consulting business. If the work for hire agreement is silent about ownership of the intellectual property rights, the separate consulting business would retain intellectual property rights.
The golden rule here is that if your company creates intellectual property rights, a contract is essential.