10 responses

  1. Rob @ Money Nomad
    March 13, 2016

    Great job differentiating the two of these – I never really thought about the difference here, but it makes a lot of sense! One quick question – can I keep the copyright to a ghost written piece of content?

    You mention that assigning a copyright allows you to keep the item in your portfolio – and I’m just wondering if that would still work if the article is intended to be ghost written for the client.


    • Katie Lane
      March 15, 2016

      Good question! One quick point of clarification though: when you assign your copyright to someone else, they’ll own it entirely. You can include the work in your portfolio if you “reserve” that right when you make the assignment (or if they give you permission in the contract). Reserving rights means you are transferring all of the rights associated with copyright, except ________. So whether you can show the piece in your portfolio will depend on whether you’ve reserved that right, or, if the client wouldn’t agree to an assignment where you’ve reserved rights, if the agreement between you and your client explicitly allows you to include the work in your portfolio.


  2. Chris L.
    June 6, 2017

    Hello – Sorry, I just found this article. As a freelance artist, I’m confused: If it is “Work for Hire”, how can a client own and use the work if they have not paid? Everything I have ever read states that ownership transfers upon payment. They are paying for the work – if they do not pay, they do not own. Can you explain?


    • Katie Lane
      June 8, 2017

      Hi Chris,

      Yours is a good question and a big reason why I wrote the post. If the work is a “work made for hire” payment is not required for the rights to transfer to the client because the client owns the rights from the very beginning. If the client doesn’t pay, they’re in breach (violation) of the contract, and you can try to recoup payment by asking a court to enforce the contract. You can even argue to the court that the client doesn’t own the rights because they haven’t paid for them. I don’t like that approach though, because it requires a lot of work on your end when you didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.

      If you want to transfer the rights to the client when they pay, you want a copyright assignment, not a work for hire arrangement. Hope this helps.


  3. Brittany Poer
    July 27, 2017

    If someone starts modeling and the models photos appear on very mainstream items in every store, would they be able to get paid for that if it does well or are they expected to just take the small payment that was initially given to them for the photoshoot. (This was under a work made for hire contract).


    • Katie Lane
      July 28, 2017

      I can’t answer a specific question, but I can say that most issues related to who can use what are answered by applying whatever the contract says. In situations where someone’s image is involved, contracts usually have a section (or sometimes a separate document) called a release, that details how the photographer can use that person’s image and for how long.


  4. Don Eggert
    December 11, 2017

    Thanks for this useful article. I have a couple clarifying questions:
    — If you are hired as a staff photographer and have no written agreement whatsoever, is it safe to say that the photos you take for that employer are works-for-hire by default and the employer owns the copyright?
    — If there’s no written agreement, could you claim copyright ownership after the fact or attempt to grant a license to the employer? If they own the copyright, could they extend a license to you?


    • Katie Lane
      February 22, 2018

      Hey Don,

      If you have a true employee/employer relationship, then yes, the employer will own the copyright to the work you do for them. The employer isn’t required to say in writing that your work is a work for hire.

      Determining if someone is an employee or a contractor is something that there’ve been many lawsuits about. But, generally speaking: if the employer gives the worker access to benefits, and if the employer supplies the worker with all the tools necessary to do the work and controls when and where the work is performed, the worker is an employee.

      If the person is *not* and employee, and there is no written agreement, then yes, they could assert copyright ownership and use that to compel the client to pay or to stop using the work in a particular way. Of course, as with many things copyright-related, that’s often easier to say than do, but it is doable.



  5. Jane Clark
    February 6, 2018

    Hello, Would you know what is the difference between the two contracts: one as a work-for-hire in which the client retains copyright and one just as a full exclusive buyout. I was asked to create two estimates accordingly but not sure what the difference is, especially in price.


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