Books, articles, and other written materials are routinely created by more than one author. Yet when it comes to copyright ownership of the works in question, the answer to “who is legally entitled to what?” can get a bit complicated.
To Be a Co-Owner of a Copyright, You Must be a True Co-Author.
In order to have a legal stake in the ownership of a copyright for a work that you created with someone else, you must be considered a true “co-author” or “joint author.” To qualify as such, you must have “materially contributed” to the work in question, and that contribution must be individually copyrightable.
For example, if you co-authored a textbook and submitted your own chapters toward the project, your written material would be entitled to copyright protection because your unique words and thoughts have been presented in the tangible form of a book or manuscript. However, if you simply relayed your ideas to a writer for the book and you contributed nothing more than that, you may not be considered a “co-author” for copyright purposes because ideas alone cannot be copyrighted.
Let’s sum it up this way: if you can’t independently qualify for a copyright based on the individual contribution you made to the project, you won’t be considered a co-author for copyright purposes no matter whose name is on the cover of the book or creative work.
What Are the Legal Rights of Co-Authors?
When it comes to copyrights, co-authors share an equal interest in the copyright regardless of the amount or substance of their contribution role within the work. As a tangible example, say Bob and John co-author a history book. Bob writes 80% of the content and John only contributes 20% of the written material. For copyright purposes, their rights are evenly despite the greater contribution coming from Bob.
Keep in mind, however, that rules exist which dictate how co-authors can exercise their ownership share. For example, each of the co-authors can reproduce, display, or perform their work without having to ask for permission from other co-authors on the project. However, co-authors cannot grant an exclusive license of the work to a third-party without having approval of all copyright holders. Finally, co-authors can sell their share in the copyright independently of the other authors and without needing approval to do so.
Need More Flexibility or Protection? Consider Creating a Collaboration Agreement.
Sometimes co-authors want more clarity about their rights or flexibility to make decisions about their copyright to benefit themselves or the entire group in the future. The good news is that an attorney can help the parties create a legally binding contract that spells out any additional rights or agreements, perhaps covering issues of future compensation or responsibilities when it comes to promotion or marketing. Any issues that go outside the bounds of typical copyright laws can be handled by a contract via consenting parties.
It Pays to Get Help
If you are uncertain of your rights as a co-author or contributor to a project that you believe makes you eligible for a share in a copyright, or if you want to learn more about creating agreements that can protect your rights beyond the scope of traditional copyright laws, we are here to help. To schedule an appointment with one of our copyright attorneys, simply call 888-666-0062.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.