Does Your Association Own the Work Product of Your Contractors, Authors, Speakers, Officers, Directors, and Committee Members?

4 min

Except for employees acting within the scope of their employment and certain other limited cases, the basic rule under U.S. copyright law is that the creator of an original work is the owner of the copyright in that work (regardless of who paid for the work to be created), barring a written assignment of the copyright to another party. This widely misunderstood rule applies with equal force in the association community, and it applies not only to outside contractors such as consultants and lobbyists, but also to your association's volunteer or paid authors, speakers, officers, directors, and committee members. Failure to understand this rule can have devastating consequences for your association.

It is critical for your association to ensure that it owns, or at least has appropriate permission to use, all intellectual property (e.g., text, graphics, photos, video) that it uses in its publications, on its Web site, and in all other media. Your association's staff may have conceived the idea and supervised the work's creation – with your association paying for it – but that does not mean your association owns the work. You may have only a limited license for a specific use. When you wish to use the work on another project or in another medium, you may find the work's creator demanding a separate fee or other consideration – or you may be precluded from using it at all.

Contractors. Maintain written contracts with all contractors to your association – such as software developers, lobbyists and all other outside consultants and contractors – to ensure that your association is assigned the ownership rights (or at least sufficient, irrevocable license rights) to all intellectual property crated by the contractor under the agreement. If your association is a joint author with another party (e.g., association employees working side-by-side with technology consultants to write software for your association), seek to obtain an assignment from the co-author(s) to your association.

Authors and Speakers. Obtain a written and sufficiently broad license or assignment from all (non-employed) writers and speakers for your association, including members. Be sure that, for licenses, the permission is irrevocable, worldwide in scope, royalty-free (if applicable), exclusive (if applicable), covers all possible uses of the work in all media, contains a release to use the author or speaker's name, photograph, and biographical information, and contains appropriate representations and warranties.

Officers, Directors and Committee Members. Obtain a written assignment from all association officers, directors and committee members assigning ownership of all intellectual property that they create (within the scope of their service to the association) to the association. Note that when a work has numerous creators (such as a set of standards or a report produced by a committee, perhaps in conjunction with association staff), each of the individual contributors (including the association) may be a joint owner of that work, each with the right to use the work and each with a proportional right to share in all proceeds from the work. Below is an abbreviated version of a sample assignment form for use with association committee members (more comprehensive versions of such forms are sometimes used):

Copyright Assignment Form for the ABC _____________ Committee

As a member of the _________________ Committee (the "Committee") of the ABC Association ("ABC") that assists ABC staff members and others in the development, modification and refinement of ______________ and related material for its _________________________ (collectively, the "Intellectual Property), I, ________________________________, hereby completely, exclusively and irrevocably assign and agree to assign to ABC in perpetuity ownership of all of the copyrights (and all rights subsumed thereunder) in and to all of my contributions to the Intellectual Property (the "Contributions"), both those Contributions that have been made in the past and those that will be made in the future. I hereby grant, convey, assign, and set over unto ABC, its successors and assigns, on an exclusive basis, all of my right, title and interest in and to the copyrights in the Contributions, including, without limitation, copyrights and renewals and/or extensions thereof, for all territories of the world in perpetuity. Good and valuable consideration has been provided to me for the assignment of these rights. In addition, I hereby waive any and all rights of attribution and integrity with respect to ABC's use of the Contributions.

Signature_____________________                Date_______________