Joint Authorship & Copyright

By Cindy Hill

Copyright is the legal protection afforded to creators of original works like writings, paintings, or musical compositions. Copyright arises when a creative idea is fixed in a tangible medium, such as recording a melody or sketching a painting. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office allows copyright holders to sue people who infringe on their copyrights. When two people work together to create a copyrightable work, they share that copyright as joint authors.

Copyright is the legal protection afforded to creators of original works like writings, paintings, or musical compositions. Copyright arises when a creative idea is fixed in a tangible medium, such as recording a melody or sketching a painting. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office allows copyright holders to sue people who infringe on their copyrights. When two people work together to create a copyrightable work, they share that copyright as joint authors.

Rights of Copyright Holders

A copyright holder has the exclusive legal right to copy, distribute, display or publicly perform her copyrighted work. There are limited rights of fair use, reserved by law to people other than the copyright holder, to reference a copyrighted work for purposes of academic scholarship or literary criticism. The copyright holder is usually the original creator of the work, but under some circumstances, the copyright may be owned by the creator's employer. Only the copyright holder has the right to license use of the copyrighted work to others or transfer the copyright.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Joint Authorship

Copyright law refers to the creators of copyrightable works as "authors," even if their creation is a work of art or music rather than literature. When two or more people create a copyrightable work together, they share the copyright as joint authors. Joint authors legally own an undivided share of the copyright, with each joint author owning an equal proportion of the copyright. Each joint author can transfer their ownership portion of the copyright and sell or grant the non-exclusive right to use the copyrightable work to others, without permission from the other joint author. Joint authors can agree to a disproportionate division of the copyright ownership, but this agreement must be in writing and signed.

Issues

Joint authors are not entitled to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement against their fellow joint authors. Absent a written, signed agreement to the contrary, two joint authors each own a 50 percent share of the copyright in their joint work, and are entitled to 50 percent of the proceeds if either one licenses the work in exchange for payment, even if one author only contributed a small amount of ideas or resources for the final product. Conflicts may arise when joint authors have different opinions as to what constitutes an appropriate licensing or income agreement for the shared, copyrighted work. The ability of each joint author to grant only non-exclusive licenses of the copyrighted work may diminish the income potential of a single, exclusive license, but all joint authors must be in complete agreement in order to grant an exclusive license.

Duration

The copyright on works subject to U.S. copyright law and created after January 1, 1978 remains in effect for the life of the author plus 70 years. For works of joint authorship created under the same circumstances, the copyright lasts for 70 years beyond the death of the last living joint author. Copyright ownership passes to the copyright holder's heirs for the duration of the copyright protection. Depending on the relative lifespans of the joint authors, this can create a substantial extension of the copyright protection period to the estates of the joint authors who die first.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Copyrighted Book Laws

References

Related articles

What Is the Meaning of Compilation on Copyright?

U.S. copyright protects original creative work once it is fixed in some tangible form, regardless of whether it is published. Creators, or authors, of the work, enjoy the exclusive right to duplicate, distribute, display and perform their work, as well as create derivative works based on the original. Authors may also license others to exercise any of these rights under contract. A compilation is a type of creative work eligible for copyright protection under the U.S. Copyright Act.

Implications of Copyright Law

A copyright grants its holder a legal monopoly on the use and commercial exploitation of an original work of authorship. Copyright law is authorized by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Copyrighted material can include such diverse works as musical compositions and software algorithms. The protection of copyrights has a profound effect on the economy.

How Is Copyright Intangible?

A person may own three kinds of property: real property, such as land or buildings; tangible property, including anything that can be touched but is not permanently attached to land; and intangible property, which can be owned and has value but cannot be touched, such as goodwill and customer loyalty. Copyright is an intangible property interest held by creators of artistic works.

Related articles

What Makes Something an Original Work for Purposes of Copyright Law?

Copyright protection is only available for works that are original in nature, such as an artist's painting, an author's ...

What Happens to Copyrights When Coauthors Die?

When two or more authors cooperate to create a single work, they might be considered the joint owners of a copyright on ...

How to Understand Copyright Ideas Versus Expression

In the United States, copyright laws stem from a simple statement in the Constitution that gives exclusive rights to ...

What Can Happen When You Have a Copyright?

Copyrights attach to an original creative work once it is placed in fixed form. Copyright gives the holder the ...

Browse by category