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Why you shouldn’t sign a work for hire agreement

One of the choices you can make when publishing your textbook or other instructional text is to sign a contract that simply assigns to the publisher the copyrights in your work or to enter into a work for hire agreement, in which you and the publisher agree that the publisher will be legally considered the author and sole owner of your work for copyright purposes. A significant consequence of work for hire agreements is that you don’t have the benefit of the right of termination under copyright law, said Stephen E. Gillen, an attorney with Wood Herron & Evans, and author of Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts.

When you enter into a contract with a publisher, he said, one of the rights you can grant is the assignment of copyright or the assignment of all rights, which in effect “leases” the copyright to the publisher for 35 years, at the end of which you have the right to take that grant away from the publisher: “It doesn’t cost you anything to exercise that right. It’s your right under federal law. It’s inalienable. You can’t contract it away. It’s descendible, so you can pass it on in your estate or to your heirs. And it’s a right that has a significant value, especially for works that survive into an 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th edition. You have that right if you make an assignment of all rights. You do not have that right if the work is work for hire.”