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The initial beneficiaries of copyright protection

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by Geoffrey Stasio (reprinted with the author’s permission)

The author of a particular work is usually deemed the first owner of a copyright in their creation. There are, however, exceptions to this general rule in various nations’ copyright laws. For example, a notable exception to this rule exists in the realm of the employee-employer relationship. According to the laws of the United Kingdom and United States, the employer is the first owner of a copyright in the work created by an employee during the course of his or her employment unless an agreement exists otherwise (ie the work for hire doctrine). However, in civil law countries, only a natural person can qualify as an author. As a result, the predominant approach in these countries is to allow employees to retain copyright in works created in their employment. One must therefore examine national regulations in order to ascertain who owns the rights to a particular work.

Employees’ Rights: Works Made For Hire

Employers regularly contract with their employees over the allocation of rights in works created in the course of employment. As stated above, civil law countries generally maintain that copyright in works created in the course of employment vests in the employee/author rather than in the employer. A transfer of such rights is therefore required in order for the employer to obtain a copyright. Nonetheless, civil law countries will often imply into the employment agreement an assignment of copyright from the employed author to his employer.

By contrast, common law countries generally reverse the presumption applied in civil law countries. These countries provide that, absent an express agreement to the contrary, copyright in works created in the course of employment initially vests in the employer rather than the employee. If the creator of a work is deemed to be an employee and the work created is part of the employee’s normal duties, then the copyright belongs to the employer.

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