What Is a Work for Hire Agreement?

A work for hire agreement is a formal written agreement between an independent contractor and a company or individual who commissions the work. Ownership or copyright of the work is usually what sets a typical work for hire agreement from a regular job contract or employee agreement.

According to an online article by Up Counsel, there are certain criteria that need to be fulfilled in order for a commissioned work to be considered such. Work for hire must fall under any of the following categories: contribution to collective work, part of motion picture, translation, supplementary work, compilation, instructional text, a test, answer material for a test, or an atlas.     

Examples of Work For Hire Arrangements

There can be many types of jobs that fall under a work for hire arrangement. Whether it is a work of art or any creative project, this type of arrangement cuts across various industries and fields. The examples below are just some of the most common work for hire scenarios.

Composer. The creative process can be complex and tedious work. But other times, more musically inclined and gifted individuals can create music or compose a song in just a manner of minutes. In both scenarios, however, the final product is the song or track. There can be many reasons why companies or certain individuals tap songwriters and composers for their musical ability. Companies tap musicians and songwriters to produce commercial jingles or songs for another artist to perform. In work for hire arrangements, the finished product or song usually belongs to the one who commissions the work. And depending on the agreed terms, any breach of contract is subject to legal scrutiny under the discretion of both parties. Illustrator. Whether it is graphic artists, visual artists, or even amateur artists, anything that involves illustration can also be commissioned. Works of art including paintings, drawings and sketches can be created for commercial purposes. A company or individual typically engages the services of a visual artist for a period of time. Whether it is to provide illustrations for a children’s book or marketing collateral, work for hire arrangements are quite common in the art and publishing world. Depending on the agreement between the parties, the artist may sometimes be credited but ownership of the work is usually sold to the party that hired the artist. Author. If illustrators produce visual art or pictures, an author’s medium is words. And just like the illustrator, an author may be hired to write stories, essays or even entire books. Ghost writers are quite common in publishing and companies who engage their creative services usually take the credit for the finished piece. A typical scenario would have an author being tasked to write whatever the commissioning company asks for thereby surrendering the copyright of his or her work to the company. Depending on the terms of agreement, an author or writer may be paid on a regular basis or on a per article or per project arrangement. Website Developer. Many people contract the work of website designers and developers for their business or their personal projects. The developer consults and collaborates with a client and is normally given a specific amount of time to finish a project. A work for hire arrangement is typical in these types of scenarios and the website developer is treated as an independent service provider. The ownership of the finished work- which is in this case, the website- is effectively transferred to the client. The manner in which the web designer or developer is paid for his or her work will depend on the prior agreement of both parties. Photographer. In the events industry, it is common for clients and companies to engage the services of an official photographer. In the case of weddings or commercial events, documentation is a key requirement. A company or client will usually hire a photographer on a work for hire arrangement; but all pictures and photos become property of the former. In most cases, both parties agree to a formal contract or photo release form that effectively transfers the rights of the photos from the photographer to the client.

Tips For Work For Hire Employees

If you find yourself in a work for hire engagement, you need to educate yourself about the intricacies and nuances of your situation before agreeing to anything. The following are some helpful tips to consider if you are in a work for hire arrangement.

Read the fine print. One of the most basic reminders to keep in mind is to always read the fine print. Do not just skim through a written agreement, especially if you have not had any opportunity to meet or consult with a client. As much as possible, you want to safeguard your interests in as much as you want to deliver good results to your client. Even if the written contract is lengthy or too time-consuming to read, you have to make it a point to read each stipulation carefully. If you disagree or are unable to comprehend some terms, seek advice from a professional or trusted friend before affixing your signature. Learning to read the fine print every time does not only apply to work for hire employees; any contract or formal agreement must be approached the same way. Know your rights. Although it is not always the case, it is best for individuals who engage in work for hire types of employment to know their rights. If you are still unfamiliar with the labor laws or acceptable employment practices in your state, do your research and read up on the laws that concern you. Familiarizing yourself with them puts you in a much better position to scrutinize any work for hire agreement you’re presented with. Knowing your rights can aid you in making sound judgments and decisions. The last thing you want is to find yourself being taken advantage of and treated unfairly by a client or company. Understand the client’s needs. If you want to deliver good work to a client, you must be willing to accommodate their needs and tastes. Although earning a commission is important, your work is reflective of you and your abilities. So being able to deliver results and meet expectations are equally important too. You cannot do this if you are not on the same page as your client. It is crucial to make time for discussion and consultation. Sit down with the client and make an effort to truly understand their needs. Whether it is a song or a website, make it a point to regularly consult with them over the course of the project. The more communication is involved, the better it is for the working relationship or partnership.

How to Create a Work for Hire Agreement

To create a work for hire agreement, you need to establish what kind of work or job is actually being expected. If you don’t want to start from scratch, you can simply browse the sample templates above and choose one that suits your needs. When you’ve selected a sample agreement, follow the basic steps below.  

Step 1: Establish the Parties

A work for hire agreement is like any formal contract wherein two or more parties enter into a work arrangement. In this case, it is the worker and the client or company. The former is engaged by the latter to provide a service or produce an output. Since work for hire generally involves work that is subject to copyright, these can range from illustrations, articles, photographs to web design. This section will serve as the introductory part of your agreement. Make sure to state the complete names of both parties and assign each party a title that distinguishes them from the other (i.e., client, contractor, etc.)     

Step 2: Set Expectations

The next step is to enumerate the responsibilities of each party. In a work for hire arrangement, there are obviously expectations that need to be met- work that needs to be done, output that needs to be delivered, etc. It is crucial that the agreement contract states this in a clear-cut manner. Roles and scope of work must be clearly defined in order to manage expectations on both sides. For example, if an agency commissions the pictures of a professional photographer, the latter’s duties and responsibilities should be described specifically and definitively in the contract.   

Step 3: Outline the Terms and Conditions

Once you’ve outlined work expectations, draft the provisions that will dictate the transactional relationship. Setting the proper terms and conditions will not only help manage expectations but it may resolve any potential conflict in the future. The key is coming up with a comprehensive and detailed list of terms. It ought to cover everything pertaining to the work for hire arrangement. From payment guidelines, copyright issues, confidentiality clauses, non-disclosure arrangements, to cancellation of contract, all these must be present and explained clearly and directly in the contract.  

Step 4: End With a Formal Declaration

As a closing statement in your work for hire agreement, include a formal declaration that reiterates the agreement that was established. This merely serves as a confirmatory statement that both client and independent contractor are amenable to the terms and conditions previously stated. Keep the statement brief and direct to the point. A single or a couple of sentences should suffice. Also, do not forget to leave enough space for the signatories to affix the date and their names.   


What is an example of a work for hire?

Some common examples of work for hire involve the work of artists, composers, musicians, authors, writers, photographers, and website developers.

Who owns works made for hire?

In a majority of work for hire cases, the one who commissions the work owns the rights to it. For instance, a company or agency engages the services of a songwriter and commissions the latter to create an ad jingle. The songwriter creates the jingle and can effectively sell the song’s rights to the agency once he signs a formal agreement.

When a company or client engages services or work made for hire, it basically means that the work or output that’s subject to copyright (e.g., songs, essays, illustrations, designs, etc.) belongs to the company even if the work was created by someone else entirely. In most cases, whoever commissions the work takes ownership of its copyright.

In today’s gig economy, anyone who has the ability to produce or create excellent output can be subject to work for hire. Whether it’s a freelance visual artist or a music composer, a lot of clients actively seek out these types of work arrangements. However, work for hire agreements can be tricky and technical at times; so a sound and well-written work for hire agreement is absolutely critical. Browse the sample templates above to get started on your own agreement now!