Warning! Co-Creation Hazard Ahead


Brainstorming and collaborating frequently produces superior work. For that reason, it is not surprising that many creative works, in the art and literature world, as well as in the business world, are the result of co-creation. Unfortunately, it is common for disputes to arise over co-created materials. That is not to say you shouldn't collaborate. It is, however, essential that the collaborators agree upon the terms of the arrangement.

Whether you have a business partner, a co-inventor on a new product, or a co-author on a book, blog, or other writing, you should take some simple steps to avoid future disagreements over ownership. As human beings, we typically perceive our contribution to a project as being the most valuable. The financier always believes the key to the company's success is the financial capital, the visionary always believes it is the ideas and the person rolling up their sleeves to do the work believes that success is the result of hard work. Of course, a more objective observer knows that all of those were the ingredients of success.

The laws governing intellectual property do dictate the rights owned by co-authors and co-inventors, but those laws do not necessarily match the intentions of the parties. If two authors work together to author a book, they become joint owners in the copyright to the book. Unless the writing was separated in some easily discernable way, both authors own 50 percent of the work and each have all of the rights that a single author would have. For example, if both authors contributed to every chapter and worked together to decide on wording, there is no way to differentiate between their work and therefore no method to divide the copyright. On the other hand, if each author wrote certain chapters of the book and those chapters could be separated without destroying the work, then there might be a way to divide the copyright. Typically, that is not the case. The applicable federal law states that "a 'joint work' is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole."

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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