Domestic and Global Contexts
Elgar Law and Entrepreneurship series
Edited by Lynda J. Oswald and Marisa Anne Pagnattaro
Chapter 8: Who owns employee works? Pitfalls in a globally distributed work environment
Two seminal questions in any nation’s copyright law are: (1) Who has the right to claim authorship and ownership of a copyrighted work; and (2) what is the scope of those interests? Determining who owns a copyrighted work can be complex. In general, the person who creates a copyrightable work is both the author and the first owner of the work. However, under the United States work-for-hire doctrine, if an employee creates a work within the scope of employment, the employer is automatically both the author and the owner of the work. Certain statutory categories of commissioned works are also considered works for hire and are subject to similar default authorship and ownership rules. If a work is commissioned from an independent contractor in a category other than a statutory category, the independent contractor remains both the author and the owner, unless the parties agree otherwise by contract. This is not the legal framework throughout the world. Copyright laws vary substantially from one country to another with little harmonization of key issues such as authorship and ownership. In a multinational context, the differences impact ownership and control of the work in unexpected ways. Thus, for a multinational corporation with employees and contractors located across more than one country, determining who may claim authorship and who owns rights to the work becomes exponentially more complex.
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