If you are a blogger and/or freelance writer, chances are that you write blog posts (or will at some point in the future) for websites owned by someone else. This includes guest posts, group blogs, and even magazines, newspapers, and other publications. When you write for someone else’s site, who owns the content – you or them?

Work for Hire Agreements

The first thing you need to understand is a Work for Hire (WFH) agreement. Unless you have signed one of these, you are the legal author and owner of the content you create. There’s a rather in-depth explanation of Work for Hire as it pertains to publishers – the people who would be using your content – that you may find helpful.

The short version is that a work for hire must be commissioned as new work, and both parties (blogger and publisher) “must expressly agree in a signed document that the work shall be considered a work made for hire” prior to commencement of work. The publisher cannot decide to make it a work for hire after you have already started writing a post for them.

If you have signed a Work for Hire agreement, the publisher becomes the legal author and owner of the created content. You have signed over your rights to that content. If you are a W-2 employee of the publisher and not a W-9 independent contractor, your employment contract may state that anything you create for your employer becomes the property of your employer, so check your employee handbook for details.

In the absence of a signed work for hire agreement, you are the legal author and owner of your content. It’s outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Licensing and Usage

Now that you know you are the owner of your original content because it was not created as a work for hire, you have to take a look at the agreement you made with the publisher of your content. Did you sign a contract? If you didn’t sign a contract, was your agreement put in writing via email or other means? Verbal contracts do count, but it gets a little bit trickier to prove your case if it becomes a legal issue. (But again, this is generally more an issue for publishers, since the content creator owns both copyright and authorship by default.)

There are many different licenses you can grant to publishers who want to use your work. The words you’ll want to look for in case this becomes a legal issue are exclusive, in perpetuity, irrevocably, and anything else that suggests that you are granting the publisher extensive permission to use your content that may not be withdrawn. Licenses may be time-limited, geographically limited, limited by media type…the list goes on and on. If you never specified terms of use for content you created, you may revoke your permission for the publisher to use your work. This is generally not advisable unless there are circumstances that would warrant such a move, as you don’t want to be known as “that blogger” who does this sort of thing. But it’s something you may need to consider if you do not receive the compensation that was agreed upon, if you fear your reputation may be tarnished from continued association with the publisher, or if other unforeseen circumstances arise that cannot be planned for in advance.

About Contracts

It’s just good business to have written contracts when you enter into a business relationship with someone, even someone you may consider to be a friend. Contracts will protect both parties if a dispute arises. Before you sign a contract, though, you should have your attorney review it for you to ensure you are not getting taken advantage of. If you don’t have an attorney, it is a good idea to get one. My attorney specializes in contracts and intellectual property law. Unfortunately, I did not retain him until after a dispute had arisen. It turned out, however, that the contract I had signed was not legally binding because of the way it was written. If he had reviewed it for me before I signed it, he would have been able to advise me against signing it in the first place, and I never would have become involved in a legal case. The good news for me, in the end, was that I received a settlement. The bad news was that I had to go through the stress of the legal process in the first place.

If you “only” blog as a hobby, you still should consider having a lawyer review any contracts you are asked to sign. You don’t want to find any nasty surprises later on in the game. It is also advisable to register as an LLC (limited liability corporation) for your blogging business, because this will limit your liability in any legal action to your business assets, not your personal assets like your savings account and your home.

You Have Your Rights

Your takeaway message for today is that you own the rights to your content unless you have specifically signed an agreement that explicitly states otherwise.

Christina Gleason does not assume liability for the information provided above. I am not an attorney, and this should not be construed as legal advice. The above content is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult with an attorney if you require legal advice.

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