Copyright term is now determined in most cases by who is the "author" of a work, even if the copyright is promptly sold or transferred to another. So-called "moral rights" (or non-economic rights) are also determined by authorship.

So is it possible for a corporation, business, or other legal entity to be the legal author of a work for purposes of copyright law?

1 Answer 1


In the US, Yes

17 USC 201 (b) provides that:

(b) Works Made for Hire.—In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.

"Work Made for Hire" is defined in 17 USC 101, which reads:

A “work made for hire” is—

(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or

(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. For the purpose of the foregoing sentence, a “supplementary work” is a work prepared for publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes, and an “instructional text” is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities.

In Germany, No

According to the Wikipedia article

The author is the creator of their work, which enjoys copyright protection in accordance with the UrhG, §§ 7, 1, 2 UrhG. Accordingly, all work resulting from a personal intellectual activity is copyright protected.(Gruber: Gewerblicher Rechtsschutz und Urheberrecht, 2nd Ed., Altenberge 2008, p.73) The „principle of non-transferability“ of full or divided authorship according to § 29 I UrhG is valid. Therefore, the creator of an original work can neither transfer their personal right as a creator,[(Cf. Götting: Gewerblicher Rechtsschutz und Urheberrecht, 1st Ed., München 2005, p.250) nor the complete rights for the exploitation of their work to others. (Cf. Rehbinder: Urheberrecht, 15th Ed., München 2008, p.113 f.)

Thus in German law, a corporation not only cannot be an author, it can never own a copyright, but only a license - though that might be exclusive, barring the author from using the work.

In the UK, in some cases

Section 9 of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 reads:

(1)In this Part “author”, in relation to a work, means the person who creates it.

(2)That person shall be taken to be—

( aa ) in the case of a sound recording, the producer;

( ab )in the case of a film, the producer and the principal director;]

( b)in the case of a broadcast, the person making the broadcast (see section 6(3)) or, in the case of a broadcast which relays another broadcast by reception and immediate re-transmission, the person making that other broadcast;

(d)in the case of the typographical arrangement of a published edition, the publisher.

The publisher will often be a corporation, and the produccer I belive could be.

  • In the UK, copyright for computer software is usually owned by the employer, but the length of the copyright extends to 70 years after death of the author, and “author” is literally the person who wrote the code. So younger employees give the company longer copyright on average. Fortunately (for older employees) “more than 70 years” is long enough not to worry. (It’s different rules if the author isn’t known. My company doesn’t worry right now what will happen in 2090).
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 18:54

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