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The Pros and Cons of Collaboration: Understanding Joint Copyrights

The modern world is becoming more and more collaborative across the board. Whether it’s a team of independent artists working together to produce a movie or a team of software developers working on a new app, creative endeavors are bringing groups of people together to work on the same project. Naturally, this has important implications for the law that protects those endeavors: copyright law. Ordinarily, copyright vests in the author of the work, a special copyright term for the creator, upon completion of the copyrightable work. This can lead to complications when there are multiple people who all collaborated on the work. Fortunately, copyright law has a special device for dealing with that: joint copyright.

How Joint Copyright Arises

Generally speaking, joint copyright arises when two or more authors work together to create a single creative work. However, that simple sentence glosses over the murkiness inherent in figuring out if there is actually a joint copyright. For one thing, the authors must be working on one indivisible or interdependent creative work. For instance, two authors who are research partners and collectively write a single book, each having creative input over the whole work, will probably jointly own the copyright. Conversely, an author who contributes a chapter to another author’s book may simply retain an individual copyright in that chapter, while the other author retains copyright to the rest of the book.

The other major factor courts will look at is the intent of the people working on the book. If they intended to create a joint work, it is more likely that the court will find a joint work. For example, there is a famous copyright case about the musical “Rent” that relates to this. After the initial script for the musical was written, a “script doctor” was brought in to help improve it, which involved considerable rewriting. During a dispute over compensation, the script doctor argued that she held a joint copyright in the work, but the court disagreed citing the fact that she was not billed as a coauthor and that there was no evidence that the author intended to treat her as a creative equal.

Special Considerations

When a joint copyright does arise, there are a variety of special considerations that people need to be aware of. One of the most important of these is the right to an accounting. This right gives all joint copyright owners a right to a share of any proceeds from the copyright, though each owner is free to commercialize it individually. It is also important to note that joint copyright has an effect on licensing the rights to third parties. While any joint owner can grant a non-exclusive license, all joint owners have to agree in order to grant an exclusive license to any party because such a license affects all of their rights in the future.

Copyright can be a powerful tool for protecting a person’s rights, but it is important to make sure it gets used correctly. If you have a question about your rights, contact a Florida copyright lawyer today. The legal professionals at Pike & Lustig, LLP are prepared to help.

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