Under the 1976 Copyright Act as amended (title 17 of the United States Code), a work is protected by copyright from the time it is created in a fixed form. In other words, when a work is written down or otherwise set into tangible form, the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created it. Only the author or those deriving their rights from the author can rightfully claim copyright.
Although the general rule is that the person who creates a work is the author of that work, there is an exception to that principle: the copyright law defines a category of works called “works made for hire.” If a work is “made for hire,” the employer, and not the employee, is considered the author. The employer may be a firm, an organization, or an individual.
To understand the complex concept of a work made for hire, it is necessary to refer not only to the statutory definition but also to its interpretation in cases decided by courts.