The current term of copyright protection is the author's life plus 70 years. For
anonymous or pseudonymous works or works made for hire (i.e, employee works),
the term of copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation,
whichever expires first. After the copyright term expires, the work will fall into the
public domain where it can be copied, performed or displayed by anyone.
When dealing with works created by persons other than yourself or outside of
your company, it is important to consider the ownership of the copyright to the work.
Initially, the person who creates a copyrightable work is the owner of the copyright to
the work, which is separate and apart from owning a product encompassing the work
(i.e., a person may purchase and own a music CD, but that does not mean they own
the copyright to the music on the CD). The Copyright Act provides for certain
circumstances where the person who "created" the work may not be the sole copyright
holder, such as joint works, or even the copyright owner at all, such as works made
for hire. These considerations are discussed below.
a. Joint Works
The Copyright Act defines joint works as works prepared by two or more
authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or
interdependent parts of a unitary whole. Authors of joint works are co-owners of the
entire, undivided copyrighted work. Court interpretations of the intent requirement for
joint works require that the joint authors intend to contribute to a joint work at the time
they contribute to the work. In general, minor contributions to an author's work does
not characterize the contributor as a joint author for purposes of the Copyright Act.
b. Works Made For Hire
Under the Act, a work is a "work made for hire" if the author was an
employee who prepared the work within the scope of his or her employment or if the
work is a specially ordered or commissioned work that was prepared pursuant to a
written agreement. If a work is characterized as a work made for hire, the Copyright
Act provides that the employer or other person for whom the work is prepared is
considered the author of the work and is the owner of the copyright to the work. In
order for a work to fall within the specially ordered or commissioned work
classification, the Copyright Act requires the work to be one of nine prescribed types
of works and the existence of a written instrument signed by the parties wherein they
expressly agree that the work was to be a work made for hire. These nine types of
(1) contribution to a collective work (i.e., a magazine or encyclopedia);
(2) part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work;
(3) a translation;
(4) supplementary work;
(6) instructional text;
(8) answer material for a test; or
(9) an atlas.