Joint Works (copyright)

No, we’re not talking about creativity that originates from prison.

Nor are we talking about helping a bud roll one.

We’re talking about when at least two people work together on a creative project.

Unfortunately, “inadvertent” joint authorship happens all the time.

Here’s the analysis:

1.  A work is “jointly authored” automatically upon its creation if:

1) two or more authors contributed material to the work; and

2) each of the authors prepared his or her contribution with the intention that it would be combined with the contributions of the other authors as part of a single unitary work.

2. Intent AT THE TIME THE WORK IS CREATED is the controlling factor.

3. The contributions do NOT have to be equal.

4. IN the ABSENCE of a Collaboration Agreement or agreement otherwise:

  • Joint authors have undivided interest in the ENTIRE WORK.  (that means even-Stephen for all the authors, even if they didn’t contribute equally.)
  • Each joint author has the right to exploit the copyright, without the other’s consent.
  • Each joint author has the right to license the joint work, without the other’s consent.
  • Each joint author has the right to transfer their share of the ownership without the other’s consent.
  • The ownership interest does NOT revert to the joint author upon one author’s death, it goes with the estate.
  • Both authors have a duty to account for profits – each joint author has to pay the other the appropriate share of profits.

So, what this means to you is that before entering into any collaborative creative project, you should create a “Collaboration Agreement” that irons out the details of the project and relationship.

A collaboration agreement should include at least:

  1. Description of the project
  2. What each person will contribute
  3. Ownership %
  4. Authorship credit
  5. Control of use – decision making

There are a bunch of other things your lawyer will help you with, but the things listed above are the key relationship issues to keep in mind and bring to the meeting with your attorney.

Please understand that I’m not saying “don’t collaborate” because collaborations can be incredibly powerful.  I’m saying get the deal in writing before you begin the work, even if you’re sure everything will be swell.

Things happen.






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