Supreme Court Ruling On "Work Made for Hire"

In a letter dated June 9, 1989, local attorney Kyle Anne Citrynell communicated the following information to the Louisville Area Songwriters' Cooperative:

"On June 5, 1989, the Supreme Court issued an important copyright ruling which clarifies the definition of 'work made for hire.' This decision resolves longstanding uncertainty about the ownership of copyright in and to works created by free lance artists and authors with significant impact on the permissible uses of such works by businesses who may rely upon or commission their creation.

"The Copyright Act of 1976 provides that copyright belongs to the creator of a work unless the work is 'made for hire.' The statute then goes on to define 'work made for hire' as either (1) work prepared by an employee within the scope of his employment, or (2) specific categories of specially ordered or commissioned work including works for use as part of a collective work or an audiovisual work, as an instructional text or as a translation if a written agreement states that the work is made for hire.

"The Act does not, however, define 'employee' or 'scope of employment.' Consequently, the right of free lancers to retain copyright in their works was often called into question.

"Now, in most instances, the free lance creator retains copyright in their creations. In conventional employment situations, the employer owns the copyright. But, other businesses which commission free lance work will only acquire one time use of the work not the right to reprint and reuse the work without additional compensation to the creator.

"Publishers, advertising agencies, computer software companies and other businesses accustomed to working with independent artists and writers will need to examine standard practices and contract provisions in the light of this Supreme Court decision. So, too, free lance creators will want to consider the impact of this ruling on their operations and rights.

"The actual decision has not been published yet, but I will watch for the 'advance sheets' and continue to keep you advised."

(At the time of this writing the 'advance sheets' were not yet available. Editor.)

Thanks, Kyle.