There are some basic concerns that freelancers should consider when it comes to intellectual property:
- Spell out in freelancing contracts who owns the rights to content, code and creative output created for the customer. If you do not want to give up all rights to what is created, say so in the contract. If the customer won’t meet those terms, they might not be the right customer for you.
- Know your rights to material, and whether or not it can be repurposed. If the customer is paying for all rights, you cannot reuse that material in any other project. However, some code may be reused if a whole module is not copied and text may be rewritten in some cases. But know the rights before you act.
- Who has to establish rights to the media or content? If writing a book, is the freelancer or the customer going to get the copyright or the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number? If pictures are to be copyrighted, will the customer or the photographer do it? If the consulting engineer is proposing a new manufacturing process, are they expected to file or sign onto a patent? If intellectual property protections are expected of the freelancer, do they have the means to do so?
- All legally binding documents to be signed by the contractor must be reviewed before someone can properly agree to the project. Intellectual property is expected to remain out of the public domain in order to remain private and protected. If the customer wants a non-disclosure agreement, security clearance, or other limits placed on the freelancer’s ability to discuss matters related to the project, the freelancer needs to be able to review the documents before signing the contract. The burdens placed on a freelancer to work on the project may require a higher pay rate or compensation. Significant restrictions may drive them to decline the project. But signing a contract and getting part way through the project before surprising them with new burdens could be taken as breach of contract.
- Non-compete agreements are sometimes required of freelancers and contractors in an effort to protect intellectual property. What was learned on one project cannot then be carried to the competition, even if no direct transfer of intellectual property intentionally occurs. Yet freelancers survive by having many customers. If non-compete agreements are required for the job, contractors and freelancers should be able to demand more compensation in return for fewer potential sources of income later.