You don’t own your work – your company does

Most likely, you don’t own the work you do; you don’t own the content you produce. Think about he copyright.

Hello fellow office worker, fellow wage-slave, fellow salary-man. I don’t mean to ignore our entrepreneur friends, but I’m talking to those of us tied to desks and squinting at screens. Yes, even those of you designing colourful things on Macs.

You know your work is owned by the company yeah? You know that everything you write, everything you draw, everything you produce is the ‘Intellectual Property’ of the company that employs you, and your contract of employment says so. It’s nice to be ‘intellectual’ but let’s just check what that means.

It means you can’t work for 20 hours on a document, on a procedure, and then mail it to yourself at home for future reference – you can’t share it with your friends on Twitter for them to use in their business. It’s the property of the company; it’s not yours.

Those manuals and management systems you’ve created, honed and become an expert in – you can’t take them with you on a USB memory stick when you move jobs. You can’t start your new, better paid, job in a new company, open your new laptop and grab your previous work from your iDisk / Dropbox / online storage solution. You just cannot transfer ‘your’ work from your previous company to your new one. It’s immoral and illegal.

While at work, or while being in paid employ, your company owns whatever you produce. If you invented a new way of charging phones with rain water, even if it was only a side invention as you worked on the official battery project, the company owns that invention, and can patent it and market it without your further input.

If you write a complex procedure that defines how people should address something, that procedure, even if generic and about a generic system, is the property of your company. You don’t get to upload it to Scribd or share it. You don’t get to take it with you if you move companies.

That article you wrote for the company magazine, or for a case study, it’s all owned by your company – you don’t get to re-use it outside of work or in your next company.

I’ve laboured the point; but whatever it is you do all day, you do it wholly for your company, not for yourself. Your work is not a ‘Joint Venture’, it’s not a fair and equitable partnership, it’s an exchange of labour for payment, and your job is to make other people richer.

The singular point I’m making is that you need to know about copyright; when you have the right to copy / use other people’s work, and when you have control or copyrights over the work you produce.


  • Copyright – using other people’s content
  • You can’t throw podcasts onto your intranet without understanding copyright
  • Can’t be bothered to write stuff for your intranet? Just steal bits from the web

Makes you want to clean windows or mow lawns for a living, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a nice summer.


Photo credit: Tom Brogan, used with permission of course.

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