“It takes [at least] two” – Joint works under U.S. copyright law

July 2016 By Carl Eppler
Nashville Arts and Business Council

Copyright law can be complicated, especially when it comes to single works created by two or more authors. Not every partnership can be as fruitful as Lennon & McCartney, Lerner & Loewe, or even Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, so it is important to understand the rights and risks for authors of joint works. This article is a brief overview of joint works in copyright law.

The typical situation: My friend and I wrote something together. Who owns it?

Under U.S. copyright law, a “joint work” is created when two or more authors make “inseparable” or “interdependent” contributions to a single work, intending for the result to be a joint work. In other words, you and your friend wrote a book; you each wrote a few chapters; the chapters depend on each other, and you intended to put them together in a single work. Congratulations, you have a joint work! This means that both of you own equal parts of the resulting book. This is an important aspect of U.S. copyright law (which differs from other areas of the law)—each author owns an equal share of the joint work. The law does not care if you created 75% of the book and your friend created only 25%. If the two parts are inseparable and you both intended for them to be one work, you each own half the work.

To read the full article, click here.