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Some factors will often have little or no significance in determining whether a party is an independent contractor or an employee in an infringement action pursuant to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. § 201. In contrast, there are some factors that will he significant in virtually every situation. These include: (1) the hiring party's right to control the manner and means of creation; (2) the skill required; (3) the provision of employee benefits; (4) the tax treatment of the hired party; and (5) whether the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party. These factors will almost always be relevant and should be given more weight in the analysis, because they will usually be highly probative of the true nature of the employment relationship.
While autonomously working for, and under direction of Jonathan Bonelli, doing business as, Island Recreational ("Island"), Clifford Scott Aymes created a series of computer programs. No written agreement assigning ownership or copyright was executed, and Aymes alleged infringement under Copyright Act (Act), 17 U.S.C.S. § 201(b), when he left Island, but Island continued to use his programs. The district court dismissed his complaint for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976 (Act), 17 U.S.C.S. § 201(b), and found the programs Aymes had created were works for hire under Act.
Did the district court err in finding that the computer program Aymes had created for Island was a "work for hire" under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 201(b) (1988)?
The court held that Aymes successfully argued he was an independent contractor, and the work he developed was not work for hire under the Act. The court applied the Reid factors, weighing each factor independently relative to its importance as applied to the facts, and concluded that Aymes was an independent contractor. Determinative factors included: Aymes was given an IRS non-employee compensation form; received no benefits; had no social security taxes taken out of his pay; and, although supervised, used skill and expertise in developing the work. The trial court had over-emphasized indeterminate and irrelevant factors, having little or no bearing on the facts.