Small business owners have lots of intangible assets: photographs, website copy, sales brochures, and so on. These are all considered “intellectual property” — you own the copyright to anything your business creates for itself.
But what about when you hire someone from outside the company to create something for you, like sales copy or web design? Who owns that? And what if you find that your intellectual property has been stolen?
There are two forms every business owner should know: the Work For Hire Agreement, and the Cease and Desist Letter.
Work For Hire Agreement
Anything that your company’s employees create for the company within the scope of their employment is the intellectual property of the company. But when your business hires someone from outside the company — such as a freelancer, or independent contractor — the rules change.
Independent contractors (who work on their own time, with their own materials) are the legal owners of the work they create, regardless of whether or not someone hired them to do so — unless a Work For Hire Agreement was signed that names the business as the copyright owner.
A Work For Hire agreement is not a complex document; it just needs to include the necessary information about each parties, the commissioned project, and details about the agreement. Both parties will sign the document.
Cease and Desist Letter
Now that you’ve established ownership over your website, images, or literature, what if someone else uses it without your permission? How can you stop them?
It’s easy, provided you register a copyright for your material; copyright law says that you need an official registration before bringing a lawsuit. But there’s a much cheaper, quite effective option that you might consider before thoughts of a lawsuit enter your mind: sending a Cease and Desist Letter.
This letter is a simple one as well: it is sent from you, the copyright owner, to the party using your intellectual property without permission (or that party’s lawyer, if you that have one and you know who it is), and it demand that they… well, that they cease and desist what they’re doing.
The Cease and Desist Letter should include the names of both parties, the title or description of your material being used improperly, and where you found it (the URL). It’s helpful if you can include copyright registration information (the date and number), emphasizing how seriously you take this matter.
With the Work For Hire Agreement and Cease and Desist Letter at your side, you’ll be able to manage your business’s intellectual property.