November 18, 2016 / Published Work

Developing a new piece of software or web application: Who owns the copyright?

Paying someone to create your website, develop software or produce other works of authorship does not mean you own the copyright in the work. Lack of ownership may prove costly, as a copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute and even modify the original work.

Employers own the copyright in works created by employees within the scope of employment. However, if the author is someone other than your employee, you must have a written agreement giving you ownership. Without it, you might have, at best, a limited implied license to use the material in its original form. Want to change your website or update your software? You better hope that the original author will agree to do the work at a reasonable price. The non-employee author also may have the right to copy, distribute and even sell the very thing you paid to have produced.

Written agreements should include an outright assignment of copyright — you cannot rely on a “work made for hire” clause in the agreement. In most instances, this will not suffice to give you ownership.


Marty Miller
Of Counsel

Porter Wright