Who owns the copyright for collaborative works?

When you collaborate with another party on developing some new IP, the question around who will own it always arises. Unfortunately, it hardly ever comes with an easy answer. Co-ownership agreements are an option, but they can bring with them all sorts of headaches. What are some of the alternatives?

There are many scenarios where collaboration results in the creation of a new piece of intellectual property (IP). When this occurs, one of the thorniest issues to solve is how to split legal ownership of the IP itself. On the face of it, co-ownership seems like the fairest option, but it can come with complications that make it more hassle than it's worth. In those cases, other options can make the headaches of co-creation much easier to deal with.

Co-ownership of IP

When there are joint authors, creators or inventors of IP, all have a moral claim to legal ownership of the final product.

A clear example is in collaborative songwriting. One person can contribute lyrics, another chord progressions and melodies, and another percussive elements. All three take part in the creation of key bits of the song, and are all therefore entitled to be considered co-writers of it. But what percentage of the whole should each person be credited with? Is a contribution of lyrics as valuable as that of chords to the entirety of the song? That's up to the creators themselves to decide.

Two people working on their laptops.When collaboration occurs, how do you decide who owns the resulting IP?

In a business scenario, it could involve different firms contributing to an R&D process that's resulted in a new product. Often questions of IP ownership are worked out beforehand, but this can result in lengthy delays and unforeseen consequences. What happens, for example, if one party puts in more work or resources than was originally planned? Does that change the way the percentages will be apportioned? And who, if possible, has the right to license the IP? Do they need the other parties' permission? Co-ownership can create headaches that can be difficult –  and costly – to resolve.

Other solutions for collaborative works

What, then, is the alternative? One option is to have a single owner of the IP that gives the other parties the rights they need, depending on their geographic region, business type and desires. For example, imagine if two companies from two different regions collaborated on some new IP, but each was only able to commercially exploit it in their respective territories. One party owning the IP and granting the other the rights to sell it in a certain region might be a mutually acceptable arrangement. 

This kind of solution will not suit every situation, but it is a viable alternative should co-ownership prove too difficult a hurdle to leap.

When you're collaborating with other parties in something new, it's best to get professional advice first. Get in touch with Alder IP today for a free consultation.