Articles – Work for Hire

The following column, authored by Sue Morem, originally appeared in the Chicago Sun Times on February 2, 1998, and is reprinted with their permission:

Work for Hire

Q – I have been performing creative work for my employer for nearly 10 years. For the first four to five years, outside designers handled the development of all our marketing materials. About five years ago, I started to produce some samples on my own because I believed that many of these projects could be brought in-house at a considerable savings. Management loved the idea and began assigning projects to me.

I bought, with my own money, software programs that expanded existing programs. The company knew I purchased these products on my own and never offered to reimburse me, nor did I ask it to.

Now I am starting my own business, and I want to take the software I bought with me, but I am wondering who actually owns it. If I take the software, many of the company’s collateral materials will not be supported by a program and therefore won’t run. Yet the programs are mine, and I want to take them with me when I leave.

I tried to reach a compromise by suggesting the company buy the software from me, but management stated that because the programs have been used for its materials, they automatically belong to the company.

Sue Says: Lawyer Gene Hollander says that if the software you bought can be removed without affecting the computer’s operating system, you have the rights to take it because you are a licensed user, he said.

However, if the removal of the software will affect other essential applications, you must configure the other programs to run without the software. Otherwise you must leave the programs you bought on the hard drive.

Try approaching your employer again for reimbursement or for some other kind of compromise.