“Can my former employer claim to be the author of a magazine article I wrote as part my duties?”

Question: While I was employed by my former employer, I wrote an article for a magazine which was subsequently published.

Since my departure, I learned from the editor of the magazine that the owner of my former employer has instructed the magazine editor to reprint the article in the next edition of the magazine under his own name as author.

This feels wrong to me. I was not paid specifically to write the paper, but it was something done in the course of my other duties.

Who is right?

        Salt Lake City, Utah

Answer: Kurt, sorry to give you the bad news, but materials created by employees within the normal scope of their work are defined as “Works for Hire” under U.S. copyright law, and the copyright law of most countries. By law, “Works for Hire” are considered the property of the employer, and the employer is considered the “author” of the work created.

This is a legal presumption. It can be overcome by a written agreement between the employee and the employer that provides that the employee will be considered the “author” of the work. However, without such a written agreement, your employer is – at least legally speaking – the article’s “author” and the owner of its copyright.

Sorry for the bad news, although it may make you feel better that it’s the law, and not something that you former employer is doing in violation of the law. For the future, as they say, “Forewarned is Forearmed.”

Best, Al Sklover

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© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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