Collaborators, Joint Authors and Copyright Infringement!

Generally, joint authors own an undivided interest despite any differences in the authors contributions.  Erickson v. Trinity Theatre Inc., 13 F.3d 1061, 1071 (7th Cir. 1994).   A movie, song, book, computer program, picture will qualify as a joint work if two or more authors collaborated and/or contributed interdependent parts with the intention to a create a unitary whole.  17 USC 101. 

Traditionally, this requires the following: 1) the intent to create a joint work; and 2) contribution of independently copyrightable work.  Erickson, at 1068.  The intent requirement only requires that the parties wanted to work together to create a single product, nothing more.  Janky v. Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 07-2350 (7th Cir. 2008) (see attached)In performing this analysis the court must look to the parties intent at the time that the work was created. Id.

Moreover, crediting another person as a co-author is strong evidence of the intent to create a joint work. Id.  The second element requires that the contribution is something that is more than general ideas or suggestions, but concrete expressions meriting copyright protection.  Id.  The Seventh Circuit’s refinement and restatement of the joint author analysis heightens the need for collaborators to clearly define their roles and rights to intellectual property ownership. 

Whether you are working with an other individual, consultant, company, independent contractor or a employee, if you fail to clearly define the roles and rights between the collaborators, then you take the risk of allowing another to own your intellectual property. 

See:  Janky v. Lake County

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