Collaborating with Artists and Other Writers – Introduction
One may picture that a book is created by one person, sitting alone at a computer, passionately typing out their manuscript. Many times, this is not the case. A book (or really any written work) may have two, three or more authors. Authors may also collaborate with illustrators and artists—think comics and children’s books—all of whose work makes up the finished product.
With so many contributors, who owns the rights in the finished book? The answer depends on what agreements each contributor made with respect to their work. Ideally, the parties will have entered into a written contract prior to beginning to work together. Of course, this often isn’t the case. This blog will compare two types of contracts commonly used between collaborators: a “co-writer agreement” and an “independent contractor” agreement. We will also consider what happens when there is no agreement.
For starters, what happens when no express agreement has been made between collaborators? In such circumstances, copyright in the collaborative work is co-owned. In the case of two authors, use of the copyright by either author requires the consent of the other. The requirement for consensus among authors may significantly limit how the work is used. One should exercise caution when collaborating with others where there is an intention to maintain control over use of the work. An agreement among authors can set forth what decisions each author is entitled to make, and what each author’s ownership interest is. We always recommend having an agreement in place before collaborating with others.
Independent Contractor Agreement
Under an independent contractor agreement one party is engaged to provide services to another. Typically, an independent contractor agreement will require the contractor to assign all of their right, title and interest in the copyright of the work product to the person commissioning the work and require a waiver of all moral rights in the work product. If the rights are not expressly assigned, the independent contractor will retain a copyright interest in the work product. If you are the party commissioning the work, an independent contractor agreement provides the benefit of ensuring that you will own all the copyright in the finished work product and will control its use (provided you include the necessary contractual language). The downside is that you will likely have to pay for the independent contractor’s services, whereas co-writers will usually work without up-front payment based on the understanding that they are co-owners.
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In a co-writer agreement, two (or more) parties come together to jointly author a work. The parties may agree at the outset what percentage of copyright in the work each author will own, what decisions regarding use of the work each author is entitled to make, and how revenue from the exploitation of the work will be split, to name as few examples. Co-writer agreements mean each author is likely to feel they have been given a fair shake, and allows the parties to tailor the deal so it meets their specific wants and needs. A potential downside is the expense of hiring a professional to draft the agreement for you; although, in this writer’s opinion, it is probably worth the investment. If paying a professional is not a realistic option for you, having something in writing is almost always better than having nothing.
Collaborating with Artists and Other Writers – Conclusion
Contracts help define working relationships. They can help parties protect their interests and plan for success. Independent contractor agreements and co-writer agreements are two useful tools when working on collaborative projects, each with their own inherent strengths and weaknesses.
If you are in the entertainment industry and have questions about copyright or the agreements discussed in this article, we encourage you to speak with Edwards Creative Law or another entertainment lawyer.
For information about book publishing agreements in Canada, we encourage you to visit our blog The Book Publishing Agreement.
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Updated to March 4, 2022
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* This blog is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please contact Edwards Creative Law or another lawyer, if you wish to apply these concepts to your specific circumstances.