Have you ever worked on a commercial project with a friend, colleague or even a lover? When it was finished, were you clear on who owned the creative output? The reason I ask is that it’s often the case that this issue is a little fuzzy, particularly when it comes to copyright.
Now don’t get me wrong, copyright is brilliant, in most countries it subsists automatically, without the need for a laborious registration process and it protects some of the most creative works out there, like text, art and music. However, its ‘free and easy’ approach to existence does have some downsides, most notably; the lack of a clear certificate of ownership, and this means that there are often disputes regarding who the true owner is (think the “monkey selfie” saga). Indeed this gets particularly tricky in cases where more than one individual had a hand in producing the copyright work.
A dispute on this very issue has recently been decided, the case concerned the authorship of a screenplay for the film Florence Foster Jenkins – for those who missed it, the film starred Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant and it was based on the life of New York socialite who was famous for her poor singing voice.
When the film was released it credited Nicholas Martin as the sole author of the screenplay however a dispute arose between him and his former partner, Julia Kogan, who lived with Mr Martin whilst he was preparing some of the initial drafts (although not when he completed the final draft). Ms Kogan claimed joint ownership of the copyright subsisting in the screenplay on the basis that she made contributions to the first three drafts and these contributions were then fed into the fourth and final draft.
Ultimately the court found that Ms Kogan’s efforts were not sufficient to claim joint ownership in the final screenplay and, rather usefully, the judge set out a list of 10 key points which can be used decide whether or not a work will be considered to be a work of joint ownership. These points are as follows:
So there you have it, 10 principles to live by when creating work in collaboration with others. Of course these shouldn’t replace a contract and, wherever possible, you would be well advised to prepare a document which clearly deals with ownership but, in circumstances in which this isn’t possible, the above can be your guide.
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