We’ve read and researched a fair amount of legalese here at Craft Blue regarding contractual agreements. While the general adage is that “Work for Hire” contracts are an industry norm for transferring ownership rights of web applications, they may not be legally binding in court.
The primary reason is that “Works Made for Hire” contracts, in many cases of software development, fail to meet one of its requirements: Per 17 USC 101, the deliverables must fall within one of nine limited categories of works. The categories, as listed below, fail to cover software development work products for non-salaried workers (agencies, contractors, and freelancers):
- as a contribution to a collective work,
- as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work,
- as a translation,
- as a supplementary work,
- as a compilation,
- as an instructional text,
- as a test,
- as answer material for a test, or
- as an atlas
Internally, we’ve found that almost none of our projects fall within these nine categories.
A highly recommended practice is to institute a clause which covers a variety of scenarios of assignment of the copyright for all work produced. In short: you need a clause which details what and when copyright assignment takes place.
We highly suggest you review the United States Copyright Office’s Works Made for Hire legalese (PDF) for yourself. It may be reason enough for you to revise your own contractual agreements.
Disclaimer: This information is given for legal education only. It may not work for your specific situation. It is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer. You have to find your own local lawyer to get legal advice and help with your problem.