Seth Godin wrote this past weekend about joint ownership of creations:

“Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.”

We couldn’t agree more that having a written agreement in advance is far better even if there is a risk of an uncomfortable conversation to secure it.

Making sure you’re on the same page, at the outset, or working through differences on the front end, is one important key to a successful relationship.

It’s worth keeping in mind too, that when the creations are subject to copyright protection, the word “joint work” has a special meaning in the law.

A “joint work” is “a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.”

Joint authorship of a joint work can be a messy proposition, because creating a joint work means that each author owns an undivided interest in the entire work. So, any of the joint authors and owners have the legal right to exploit the joint work without the permission of the others, but if profits are realized, there is a duty to share those profits with the other joint owners.

This can be a bit confusing to those who haven’t been down this road before either, since it is surprising to some that the various contributions forming a joint work need not be equal in effort, value, or importance.

Depending on what your particular contribution happens to be, you may be not only surprised, but down right disappointed to learn, after the fact, about the legal consequences of creating a joint work.

Thanks Seth, for raising this important issue about intellectual property ownership.