Joint Works and Copyrights

Joint Works and Copyrights

When a copyrightable work is created by two or more persons, ownership of the copyright can take several forms, depending on the intent of the parties.


When two or more people create a work with the intention that it be a collaborative work and that one copyright cover the work as a whole, it is considered a collaboration. In such cases, the creators become joint owners of the copyright. Imagine two people go on a trip with the intention that one writes about the trip and the other takes photographs. To confirm that this is the understanding of the parties, a written agreement should be signed.

Collective Work

A collective work is generally a compilation, such as a magazine, newspaper, or other periodical, in which a number of separate and independent works are compiled into one work. If you have written an article, column, or short story that has been published in such a compilation, you may make a separate registration for your work. Your work would be a “contribution to a collective work.” 

For example, if a number of freelance poets give their permission to have their poems published in a poetry anthology. The freelancer owns the copyright to their individual contribution, and the publisher owns the copyright to the anthology.

Derivative Work

A derivative work is a work based on or derived from one or more already existing works. If the material of an existing work is made into a new work but is used in a different way than originally created, the resulting work is a derivative work.

For example, if a film that is based on a novel is a derivative work. If parts of a previously-written musical score are used in the film, the resulting film is a derivative work based upon both the novel and the music. The creator of the film is entitled to a copyright. If the novel and the music are still under copyright, the creator of the film needs to get their permission (and pay for a license) before using their works.

For copyright purposes, a work is only considered derivative if it uses substantial amounts of an existing work and adds new original copyrightable authorship to that work.

  • Definition of a Copyright
    A copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of "original works of authorship." This includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other creative works. Material not protected by copyright (or otherwise protected) is available for use by...
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    The advantages of registering a copyright include the following:
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    In general, only the creator (the "author") of an original work (or someone to whom the copyright has been lawfully transferred) can register a copyright. However, if the author prepared the work within the scope of his or her employment or if the work falls into certain special categories and was...
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    Copyright protection generally gives the copyright's owner the exclusive right to do the following:
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    The securing of copyright protection is frequently misunderstood. Copyright is secured automatically when a work is created. A work is "created" when it is fixed into a book, tape or electronic medium for the first time. For example, a song can be fixed in sheet music, a digital tape or both. No...
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