Collaborative Writer Agreements

Entertainment attorney Gordon Firemark raises some important issues regarding collaborating with another writer(s).

When co-authors join together to create a single work, it’s  called a work of “joint authorship”. Ordinarily, joint authors are equal owners of the work and share equally in the proceeds from commercial exploitation of the work. Any variation to this division must be stipulated, otherwise it can be legally unenforced.

Collaborative agreements do not always have to be in writing, although it makes them more difficult to prove if they aren’t. A mutual intention to collaborate constitutes an agreement, as opposed to one “author” volunteering story suggestions, plot points or characters. In legal terms, the latter is referred to as a gift.

Once a “joint work” is complete, it must be decided who makes the business decisions. Oftentimes, business decisions regarding commercial exploitations must be unanimous. Your agreement must stipulate the right of “veto” and the nomination of an impartial third party in the case of two party collaboration draws.

Removal or withdrawal of a collaborator provisions must also be included in the agreement. Oftentimes, writing partnerships go their separate ways when they become successful or they encounter creative differences. In the case of death, disability or otherwise incapacitation of a partner it must be decided whether the copyright reverts to the surviving partner (such as a married couple), or whether they are transferred to a beneficiary.

An experienced entertainment lawyer can draw up a collaboration agreement very quickly.  It’s well worth the investment.  Fixing these situations after the fact is always more costly and time consuming.

Many friends became enemies because they failed to undertake the necessary legal groundwork.


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