Avoid Problems with Joint Authorship, Part 3: Using Contracts

Using the right contract for situations involving Joint Authorship will save you time and trouble and possibly a court case if you’re working with another digital artist on a project. Part 1 of this 3-part blog post gave a summary of JA considerations, and Part 2 discussed understanding how a court will interpret your situation if you end up in litigation.



Avoid All The Fun of Litigation By Drafting Collaboration Agreements/Other Contracts Beforehand

Regardless of your industry, there are tons of ways to avoid unintended JA problems.  Work-Made-For-Hire Agreements (unless you’re in California – check out my last post) with assignment and, possibly, licensing and cross-licensing clauses are good options if you want to make sure copyright is held individually rather than by multiple people or entities.

And if you want to share – and maybe vary the degree of ownership of – copyright?  The beauty of a Collaboration Agreement – and of a contract in general – is that as long as you’re not violating external law, you can pretty much build your own world.  So a Collaboration Agreement setting forth in detail every co-author’s rights and duties – in every potential situation you can envision – is a great idea.

For example, in the film/video industry, a Writer’s Collaboration Agreement typically deals with the following issues (among others):

  1. The percentage of copyright each screenwriter owns (often the idea person gets the bulk of most of the rights)
  2. How screenplay, literary adaptation, video game rights, sales, licenses, etc. are to be handled
  3. How expenses are to be allocated
  4. How disagreements are to be resolved
  5. Is separate use of work that can’t be sold allowed?
  6. Is assignment of the right to the screenplay itself – vs. just the right to receive money from it – allowed?
  7. What promises (representations and warranties) about originality of the material contributed by each writer are being made?  Writers generally indemnify (compensate for loss) each other against lawsuit damages for intellectual property infringement.

Whew!  That was a long series – thanks for your patience.  In my next (shorter!) post, we’ll talk about how you can basically build your own world through contract, and what the right contract clauses can do for you and your business.


Patricia Murphy teaches several workshops on copyright issues to help photographers, web designers, and other digital professionals navigate the legal world.

The Inevitable Legal Disclaimer:  This information is provided for general educational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice.  Its provision does not create an attorney-client relationship.  For detailed guidance regarding your individual circumstances, check out the many online resources available and/or consult an attorney.  I wish you the best in your artistic endeavors!



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