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The Doctrine of Joint Authorship

The Doctrine of Joint Authorship

It is fairly common to come across works which are the creations of multiple persons and authorship vests in all such people that contributed towards the creation of that work. Some common examples include two or more authors contributing towards writing a research paper or in the instance of musical works where the music composer and lyricist come together to create the next chartbuster, the list is seemingly endless.

However, what constitutes joint authorship? Is it simply working on a project or is there more to it? In this article we discuss the doctrine of joint authorship and the rights and duties of a co-author.

Why is this important?

Determining who are the authors from the outset eases a lot of issues that may otherwise arise. Organisations that deal in copyrighted work must put appropriate arrangements in place for assignment or licensing agreements and those works may involve works of joint authorship. Hence, it becomes important to mitigate any authorship issues or disputes that may arise if these are not properly defined.

What is joint authorship?

Joint authorship is a copyrighted work that is produced by the collaboration of two or more authors and the work of such authors are non-distinct from each other.

The key elements of this definition can be broken down into four parts:

  1. Collaboration: The authors while collaborating on a work must work towards the same end, i.e. They must have the same goal in mind. For: A, a software developer creates the source code, landing page while B, designs the images for a website.
  2. Authorship: An individual will not be a joint author if their work is not authorial. This means that to qualify as a joint author their work must involve substantial skill in creation of the work. For example: If A dictates and B simply writes then B’s work will not be authorial.
  3. Contribution: They must contribute such elements to the work that signify their intellectual input or “personal touch”. Simply, in making the work they must utilise their own free and creative ideas and express them in their own way.
  4. Non-distinct: An individual’s work will not qualify for joint authorship if it is distinct from the other author. If it were it would have been copyrighted on its own. Thus, it is necessary that the works of the authors are non-distinct in nature.

Rights and duties of Co-authors

  1. Every co-author owns an equal share in the work. Thus, a co-author cannot claim that he has done more work than the other co-authors provided that author’s work qualifies the test of joint authorship.
  2. Each co-author owns an equal share in the entire work. This means that if a writer and a designer have jointly worked to create a magazine then both will own fifty percent each of the magazine.
  3. Any co-author may grant a non-exclusive license to third parties but he cannot grant an exclusive license without the permission of other co-authors.
  4. Each co-author must share the profits received from exploitation of the work equally.
  5. A co-author has the right to assign his ownership to a third party or his heirs.
  6. Each co-author will have an equal credit for authorship upon the publication of the work.
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