What is a Work for Hire Agreement? Templates and FAQ

Pooja Batra
Last Updated:

14 Nov 2023

Published On:

19 Oct 2023

min read

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1. What is a Work for Hire Agreement?


Work for hire agreement is entered between an independent contractor / employee and client / employer to provide services whereby the client / employer  i.e. the hiring party retains the ownership of the work created by the contractor / employee


It is often asked - who owns rights in work made for hire? In case of work made for hire, employer / client has full ownership of the work created by the independant contractor / /employees. 


According to C.L. Mike Schmidt, an attorney at Schmidt & Clark, LLP ,  Work for Hire Agreement is a legally binding contract that outlines the terms under which a person or entity is hired to create specific intellectual property, such as written content, artwork, software, or any creative work. It's a way to secure the rights to work produced by someone else. The key aspect is that it designates the hiring party as the legal author and owner of the work, including any copyrights associated with it.


Common examples of when work for hire agreements are used:


  1. Entertainment Industry


  • Actors, filmmakers, screenwriters, songwriters, composers sign work for hire agreements to create content / write original songs and the ownership is retained by the production company


  1. Design and Branding


  • Graphic designers are hired to create logos, design websites and sign work for hire agreement to transfer full ownership of these designs to the client.


(c )    Photography


  • Photographers when hired to take photographs transfer ownership of the photographs to the client / hiring party.


(d) Digital content Creation



  • Content Creators, Influencers on social media  enter into work for hire agreements with brands and transfer exclusive content rights. 


Daniel Novela Esq., Founder of Novela Law and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law., explains that work-for-hire agreements are essential for third-party contractors doing outside creative work such as websites, logos, advertising, etc. The work-for-hire agreement will ensure that all of the work that you’re paying for is owned by you. 

2. What is a work made for hire?

In case of work made for hire the ownership does not belong to the creator of the work. It belongs to the employer / hiring party depending on the terms and conditions of the work for hire agreement. 


Vikas Kaushik, CEO at TechAhead, points out that clarity of ownership is an advantage of work for hire agreements. The terms and conditions of these agreements make is apparent that any IP rights associated with the job are owner exclusively by the employer

A work made for hire exists only in 2 situations:



  • Work created by Independent contractors and satisfies the criteria listed herein below.


3. In a work made for hire who becomes the owner of the copyright?


The employer / hiring party is the copyright owner if the work qualifies as ‘work made for hire’.


According to Andrew Pickett, Trial Attorney and Founder at Andrew Pickett Law, a work-for-hire agreement is a legal contract between an employer and an independent contractor that outlines the ownership of intellectual property rights. This means that the employer retains all ownership and control over the work produced by the contractor, including any copyrights.



4. I hired a contractor to create some content for me. Since I paid for it, do I now own the content?


Not always.  Commission work must satisfy the conditions to qualify as ‘work for hire’. 


Your ownership rights are established through the work for hire agreement that clearly specifies the transfer of ownership from the contractor to you upon payment. It’s essential to have a written agreement in place to confirm these ownership rights. DocPro’s work for hire agreement template clearly states that ownership rights are retained by the client.


The US copyright law provides that commissioned work must to meet the following criterion to be considered as work for hire: 


1. The work must fall within one of the nine categories of works listed below:


(i) as a contribution to a collective work,(ii) as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, (iii) as a translation, (iv) as a supplementary work, (v) as a compilation, (vi). as an instructional text, (vii). as a test, (viii). as answer material for a test, or (ix). as an atlas, 


2. It must be specially ordered or commissioned as works made for hire.


3. There must be a written agreement between the party that ordered or commissioned the work and individual(s) who actually created the work.


4. In the written agreement, the parties must expressly agree that the work is to be considered a work made for hire. 


5. The agreement must be signed by all parties.


William Scott Goldman, a trademark and copyright attorney at Goldman Law Group with over 30 years of experience in this field explains that under the Copyright Act if an original work of authorship falls within certain specifically-defined categories, then it may be treated as a work for hire. As such, the employer will exclusively own the copyright even though the work was actually created by the employee. For that reason, employment agreements typically include language specifying the same. While independent contractor agreements often include work for hire provisions, typically these are unenforceable as freelancers are usually not considered employees and technically own copyright by matter of law. Therefore, an assignment agreement is needed and recordation with the Copyright Office is recommended. Likewise, if the type of work in question falls outside of the narrowly proscribed categories, that’s another instance where work for hire provisions are unenforceable and a separate assignment of copyright would be needed since the material is thus treated as a commissioned work

5. How does a Work for Hire Agreement function?


C.L. Mike Schmidt, an attorney at Schmidt & Clark, LLP  illustrates this concept through an example: When you engage an individual or a company to produce a work for you under a WFH agreement, they are essentially acting as your contractor. You, as the hiring party, hold all the rights to the work once it's completed. This means you have the exclusive rights to use, modify, distribute, and even license the work without needing the creator's further permission. It is critical to include in the agreement the scope of the work and the compensation, as well as other important details such as deadlines, deliverables, and any applicable milestones.


Scott Trachtenberg, CEO of ADA Site Compliance, a leading provider of ADA compliance solutions for businesses of all sizes, says that contract-to-hire positions offer more flexibility and reaching an agreement is much easier for employers and employees.


6. What does a Work for Hire Agreement include?


Work for Hire Agreement template must include:


  1. Description of the Work
  2. Deliverable Deadline
  3. Terms of Payment
  4. Rights in the Work Product


Min Hwan Ahn,Esq, NY Attorney and Founder of EZ48 , explains that a well-drafted work-for-hire agreement should include the scope of work, timeline, compensation details, a clear assertion that the work product will be considered a 'work made for hire', and the acknowledgement from the creator giving up their copyright to the commissioned work.


The Work for Hire Agreement template is crucial to ensure full ownership vests in the employer or the hiring party. 




7. What is the difference between Work for Hire Agreement and Copyright Assignment Agreement


Work for Hire Agreement

Copyright Assignment Agreement 

Ownership at Creation

The hiring party or employer typically owns the work from the moment of creation.

Creator owns the copyright in the work and assigns / sells it to the other party

Control over the Work

The hiring party typically has significant control over the work's creation and content.

The creator has more creative control over the work.

Use Beyond the Original Scope

The hiring party can use the work for any purpose, even beyond the original scope of the project, without seeking further permissions.

The usage rights are typically defined in the agreement, and any use beyond those terms may require additional permissions or negotiations.

Termination and Reversion

The hiring party usually retains rights indefinitely, and there may be no provisions for termination or reversion of rights to the creator.

In U.S., the copyright law allows the creator to terminate the copyright assignment after 35 years

8. What is the difference between a Work for hire Agreement and Service Agreement? 


The primary distinction lies in the fact that a Work for Hire Agreement pertains to the creation of intellectual property, whereas a Service Agreement deals with the provision of services.


According to Rick Chahal, Licensed Paralegal/Legal Assistant at Kahlon Law, a work-for-hire agreement and a service agreement, while similar, serve different purposes. In a work-for-hire agreement, the hiring party is considered the author and holds copyright ownership of the produced work, often seen in creative fields. In contrast, a service agreement outlines the services, payment terms, and expectations between a service provider and a client, with the service provider typically retaining their rights to the work, unless otherwise specified in the agreement

A Work for Hire Agreement provides clarity and certainty to both parties regarding ownership of intellectual property, and minimizes the chances of disputes in future. 


DocPro offers Work for Hire Agreement templates to simplify the process for you, whether you're a client or a contractor. Explore our selection of templates and customize them to suit your needs. Protect your work and relationships today!

Check out DocPro’s  Work for Hire Agreement templates:


Neutral: Work for Hire Agreement 


Client: Work for Hire Agreement 


Contractor: Work for Hire Agreement  


Take the first step toward clarity and security in your business relationships!

Pooja Batra

Pooja has more than 8 years of in-house legal experience in large MNC’s. She has advised on a wide range of corporate and commercial matters including drafting, reviewing and negotiating a variety of commercial contracts and other agreements across various business lines. If you would like to become a contributor to DocPro, please click the link below:



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