Copyright protection advice: Agreements between co-authors

Why have an agreement?

If your work is a joint venture, then it may be difficult to establish exactly who owns what. It is useful to clarify this from the outset as this may help to avoid unnecessary disputes and animosity later.

Examples of situations

Typical examples of where this may be appropriate are:

  • Books that are written by more than one author.
  • Musical compositions written as a group effort.
  • Speculative business projects, (start ups), where there is no employment contract in place.

Regardless of how well members of your collective get along now, it is best to plan for the worst and ensure you are covered if situations become tense. Setting out the ground rules up front will help you avoid problems later if things do not work out.

Drawing up the agreement

Be sure you know exactly where you stand, who will own what rights, and what happens when someone leaves. You should then draw up an agreement to describe what you have decided, this should be signed by each member to signify their agreement. This does not necessarily have to be a document drawn up by a solicitor, (this may be overkill in a non-business/commercial environment), but it should nevertheless be regarded as a serious and comprehensive agreement.

Here are some points to bear in mind when coming to your agreement:

  • What happens if someone leaves. Can they use the work in their own right? Can the collective still use the work of the person that left?
  • Is it worth treating this joint ownership as a separate entity - such as a limited company, which can hold assets in its own right.
  • What happens to royalties and commissions if any work is later published or sold? Will the be split evenly, or should you work out a percentage based on input?

The key point is to think ahead; even if you think things will end amicably they may not.