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I'm working on a musical recording that will be owned by my LLC and released for free under a Creative Commons license. I would like to include a few friends as session musicians who would like to donate their time.

To make sure that the copyright is owned entirely by my LLC (which they okay with) I would like to have them sign session musician contracts, which in my understanding, are specialized Work For Hire contracts. Is it possible under US law to have a Work For Hire agreement with no compensation in return, since my friends would like to contribute for free?

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In order to have a valid contract both parties need to get something of value. So you would not have a valid contract. "Something of value" does not have to be money, and you can discuss with them why they would want to do this for no money (and put that in the agreement). You can read up on the definition of "work for hire" here. Notice that the existence of a "contract" is not required, instead the law is stated in terms of the employee / employer relation and the "scope of employment". It is important that the other parties not be "contractors", where there is no automatic ownership by the "employer".

There isn't a crystal clear uniform legal definition of "employee", and you need to be aware that as an employer, you may be required by various governments (city and state, usually) to do some things. It is not enough to simply declare "they are my employees". An alternative to relying on work-for-hire is to execute a copyright transfer, a contract where the musicians transfer their copyright to the LLC, in exchange for whatever it is that you would have put in an employment contract.

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