United States copyright law grants ownership to people who create material, but what happens when the content is used for business purposes or if the creator is your own employee? Here’s some information for the four main business entities.
Using someone else’s copyrighted work on your company website is considered infringement. Here’s what you need to know about internal work created for business purposes.
- •Sole Proprietorship: If you are the sole owner of a business, you own all copyrights for images, articles and any other business content. This includes your own creative content, as well as anything your employees create while on the job. 1099 work is the exception. You can’t claim any material created by an independent contractor unless he or she agrees that the work is made for hire. This contractual agreement must be in writing. The author or creator may claim moral or attribution rights, but the employer owns all legal copyrights to the material.
•Partnership: The business entity owns all job-related content created by company employees. Partners may claim 1099 material if a work-for-hire agreement has been signed. The rules are slightly more complex when it comes to work created by individual partners. In general, if you create content specifically for business purposes, then any associated copyrights would belong to the business, unless a signed agreement states otherwise.
•LCC: This entity falls under the same rules that apply to partnerships and sole proprietors. However, members are usually considered employees when it comes to copyright law. Unless otherwise stated in writing, all work of members belongs to the business.
•Corporation: Just like in an LLC, shareholders are typically considered employees for copyright purposes. Therefore, the company would own any shareholder material that is created for the business.
If you’re caught using contractor material on your website without an agreement, a court may assume an implied license. This usually only happens with work that is considered collective. With an implied license from the court, you may continue to use the content on your website.
When you own a copyright, a license sets the guidelines for how others can use the work that you distribute. A license details the length of use, method of use and any fees involved. Fair use material, however, does not necessarily require permission. Examples include educational material, student research and news commentary.
You can create your own license or use an existing license specific to your industry. Here are some examples:
- •Creative Commons license: This is a series of six simple licenses for web-based creative material. The basic version allows for copying, redistribution and modification. All creative commons licenses require owner attribution.
•Software license: These licenses deal with programming code. Common examples include MIT, BSD, GNU and Apache. Software licenses outline how material can be modified and whether or not redistribution is allowed. If you’re currently using open-source software, make sure you understand your legal boundaries.
•Master recording license: Suppose you want to use a pop song to advertise a new product line. A master recording license gives you the right to use an artist’s own music.
•Trademark license: This is hot one for business owners. If you own a trademark, licensing can be a great way to brand your image without the need to drum up extra capital. Consider how many consumer products are associated with the Harry Potter franchise. Sharing trademarks can be a lucrative move if you find the right partner.
Finally, pay attention to specific licensing terms. “Copy” and “modify” do not have the same meaning. Likewise, distribution deals with owners, while redistribution deals with users. “All rights reserved” is a common term that means no usage rights have been established. If you’re looking to share your material or use the material of others, make sure you know what you can and can’t do.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.