Who is the Owner of a Website Created By Contractors?

When a person or company hires an independent contractor (a non-employee) for creation or contribution to the creation of a website, it is preferable to obtain ownership of the copyright in the agreement with the contractor.
For this, a written agreement should be signed by the contractor. We may use two types of contracts:
• a work for hire agreement, or
• a copyright assignment agreement.


What Kind of Work Might Be Made for Hire Agreements?
Independent producers create some types of works that are meant for hire to which the hiring part automatically takes all the copyright rights provided that:

  1. before creating something both parties sign an agreement stating that the work shall be made for hire, and
  2. the work refers to one of the given categories by The Copyright Act of 1976
    Websites usually are collective works or compilations, i.e. before creating work the creator signs an agreement according to which such works can be works made for hire.

The word “assignment” means a transfer of all the rights a person owns in a piece of property. Thus, whenever a person or entity transfers all the intellectual property rights it owns in a work of authorship, such transaction is usually known as an “assignment” or “all rights transfer.”

What If the Contractor Refuses to Sign a Transfer Agreement?
In the case, the contractor does not sign a work for hire agreement or assignment, the other party may face two possible consequences:
• the contractor will be considered the unique copyright owner of the work he or she creates, or
• the contractor and hiring party will share ownership as well as they will be considered to be joint authors.

When Does the Creator Own Copyright?
Irrespective of obtaining the ownership by getting joint authorship or by virtue of some written document, the creator will solely own all of the copyright rights in her work product. Nevertheless, the hiring firm will not lose all because it has a non-exclusive license to use it as intended. It seems fair, but a person with a non-exclusive license cannot abolish others to use it as well. Non-exclusive licenses may be implied from the circumstances; no express agreement is required.

What if Joint Work Created?
From the point of view of many firms, the best way is to be considered a joint author of work. In this case, the ownership should be shared with the contractor.

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