When is a Film Work for Hire Agreement Used in Film Production & Why

When is a Film Work for Hire Agreement Used in Film Production & Why?

Throughout the production of any film there are bound to be many different agreements. Ones made between contractors, freelancers, and the employees. Which make up the cast and crew involved in getting the job done. The film work for hire agreement (WFH) is one such document that frequently comes up during the process of film production. Specifically it’s common between screenwriters and the production company. But may also be seen later in post-production between the production company and the post-production editing crew.

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So why is the work for hire doctrine so important to the film industry? And what does it mean for the ownership rights in regards to copyright protections which follow the creative works?

 What is a Film Work for Hire Agreement?

The film work for hire agreement represents a unique, contractual agreement that is frequently made between the film producer. Or, in the case of a feature film that has formed an LLC for the purpose of the production.

The work for hire agreement is entered between the LLC and the screenwriter, producer, director, or other cast and crew members involved in the production.

The purpose of the film work for hire agreement is to legally state that the work which is performed under the contract by the individual specified in the WFH agreement is not owned by the individual performing the work. But rather by the individual performing the work.

U.S. Copyright Law

Under a film work for hire agreement, U.S. Copyright Law states that the assertion of rights. Specifically those pertaining to copyright protections. They belong to the original copyright owner or creator of the work.

Thus, when multiple parties are involved in the production of a project. Such as when there are several parties that work on a film and create different aspects of it. Decisions must be made as to who owns the work. 

When is the Film Work for Hire Agreement Used?

Work for hire is a doctrine which specifies legal principles that are applied under U.S. Copyright law. Whenever you do work for someone, as an employee, you’re performing the work under an implied work for hire agreement.

Meaning that you are performing the work that you were hired to do. But that when the work is complete you take no ownership of the finished product as the employer, who paid for the work, is the owner.

In the film industry, work for hire agreements are entered into between the film production company or the LLC that owns the film. And many of the workers that are hired or otherwise contracted to provide services in relation to the production.

Consider This

For example, if you’re hired as an editor at a production company? The films that you work on and edit do not become your own property. But rather, under the film work for hire agreement, remain the property of the film company for which you are working for.

But, few filmmakers work as employees of companies. In fact, most of the people involved in the film industry work as contractors. Or are otherwise hired independently as freelancers to work on a project-by-project basis.

So how does the work for hire agreement work in situations in which there is not an “employee” relationship?

Work for Hire & The Independent Contractor or Freelancer

Understanding the work for hire agreement for independent contractors and freelancers is vital. Since most film workers are not technically “employed” but work as independent contractors.

The details that apply specifically to independent contractors that enter work for hire agreements are important.

If you’re a freelance worker, in order for the production company that hires you to retain ownership of the work that you create for them ALL of the following must apply:

  • The work must be custom ordered or commissioned. This means that the production company must specifically order work from you. And that it must not be a standard, repeat style work order. But rather a custom order.
  • There must be a written agreement. Signed by both you and the production company. Stating that it’s a work for hire. If there is no written agreement, or if only one party signs the agreement. It is NOT an enforceable work for hire.
  • The work must fall into one of nine approved categories. For a list of categories see our full post about work for hire agreements

Why is the Film Work for Hire Agreement Important

The film work for hire agreement is an important aspect of filmmaking contracts. That detail industry specifics as they apply to the copyright ownership of creative works.

Because creative works result in several different hands which actively engage in the production of a project. Such as a film. It’s important to have legal manners set forth to outline how ownership of a project transfers hands along the way. 

Film producers must understand how work for hire agreements work. As well as the specifics that dictate the differences between being an employee and being a freelance worker.

Along with labor laws, treating a contracted worker as an employee. Or expecting that you will own the same rights to work that you order from a contractor. As you would if you had paid an employee for the work can get you into some trouble. 

Implied Agreements

Employees work under implied work for hire agreements. Regardless of contract. Whereas contractors or independent freelancers are not under an implied work for hire agreement.

If you’re a producer that mistakenly believes that you’ve entered a work for hire agreement with a contractor. But you’ve not included the work for hire specification in your contract.

Or you do not meet the other specific requirements of the film work made for hire agreement that were previously listed above. Then you do not have a work made for hire agreement.

This means that the contractor technically still retains rights to the work they provide for you. And that they may stake a claim to the copyright of the work.

The Takeaway

So, what’s so important about a film work for hire agreement? And why is it used throughout the film industry? The work for hire agreement represents a key area of contract law.

Which specifies that when an employee or contract worker under the work for hire agreement provide services. Including editing or other film production tasks.

The film itself and the product of their work is still owned by the production company that hired the individual under the work for hire agreement. It’s just that simple. 

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