10 Things You Should Know Before Creating a Joint Literary Work

Originally posted 2017-02-27 12:09:29

By Breanna Pendilton | amdlawgroup.com


As an author, it is ultimately your goal to make your work unique and original.  One way to make your work extremely original is to combine your ideas with that of another writer and/or editor to create a joint work. As the saying goes, “Two authors are better than one!”  Before you decide to create a joint work, however, here are ten things you should know:

1. You should first know how to spot a joint work.

A joint work is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions, at the time of creation, be merged into a unitary whole.  If you created a children’s story two years ago and today you agree to put the story with Bob’s illustrations to make a book, you have NOT created a joint work.  Why?  Because at the time that you first created the story (two years ago), you did not intend that the story be merged into a book with those illustrations, nor did you intend (at the time that you first created the story) that Bob would be a joint author.

2. You should know that you do not need a contract to create a joint work.

Like all works in copyright, a joint work is created when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  As soon as it is written down with another author you have created a joint work.

3. You should know that co-authors will own the work equally.

When a joint work is created, each author will own equal portions, unless there is a contract that says otherwise.  If there are two authors, each will collect 50 percent of the profits.

4. You should know that each of the co-authors has an undivided ownership in the entire work.

If you made the story and Bob provided the illustrations, you each still own the entire work, both the story and the illustrations.  Even though you only made the story, your ownership in the work is not limited to only the story.

5. You should know that once it is a joint work, the individual pieces of the work cannot be separated.

Although you made the story and Bob created the illustrations, Bob cannot put out a picture-book edition of the story without saying that you are also an owner of the picture-book edition.

6. You should know that if one of the co-authors wants to grant a non-exclusive license of the work, he/she can do so without the permission of the other joint authors.

Because a non-exclusive license only affects the use of the work in a limited way, each co-author can license the whole work as he wishes and can continue to make money off of the work, without the interference of the other authors.

7. You should know that if one of the co-authors wants to grant an exclusive license of the work, he/she MUST get permission from the rest of the joint authors.

Because an exclusive license deals with a transfer of interest and can ultimately affect what the other co-authors can do with the work, you need written consent from co-authors in order to grant this license.

8. You should know that even if one co-author grants a license to another, that co-author has a duty to account for profits to the other joint owner.

As stated before, each co-author has an undivided interest in all of the work, so even if one co-author is responsible for granting the license, making him thus responsible for bringing in the money, he still has to pay the other authors their respective share, since they all own the licensed work and are all entitled to make money from it.

9. You should know that the “life of author plus 70 years after his/or her death” begins after the death of the last co-author.

If you die in 2020, but Bob dies in 2024, then the protection of the joint work lasts until 2094 (which is 70 years after Bob’s death.)

10. You should know that if a co-author dies, there is no right of survivorship.

If you and Bob created a joint work, when Bob dies, his share will go to his heirs.  You will not be able to claim ownership of the entire work when he dies.

It is important that you know these ten things before you create a joint work.  There are some advantages such as the longer term protection, having the ability to own and license the entire work, (even though you did not create the entire work), and just the ability to have someone else’s originality and creativity merged with your own.  But there are also disadvantages, like the fact that you have to pay each co-author each time you make money from the work and that you may have to ask permission to use the work.  Because authors often times use editors and/or ghost writers, I encourage literary authors to use this list, not only to inform, but to make an individual assessment on whether creating a joint literary work may be for you.

AMD LAW’s Tip of the Day: A joint work is like a marriage: For better or for worse, and ‘til death do us part.  Don’t be unhappily tied down!

Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/6nWRCM