How To Create a Copyright Agreement For Co-Creators

Legal Options When Working with Copyright Co-Ownerships

We usually think about creative content coming from just one person, such as an author, a painter, or an architect. But more frequently in the business world, creativity or intellectual property is the achievement of a team or group of people. Generally speaking, U.S. copyright laws provide exclusive rights to the creator of an original work to reproduce, perform, sell, and distribute their work, among other rights.

When a team of people develops an idea or product, drafting a written copyright agreement can be crucial to prevent future conflict over copyright ownership issues. Your Arizona copyright lawyer can help you and your co-creators understand copyright laws, your legal options, and how to work with joint copyright ownerships so that everyone profits equally and potential disagreements can be prevented.

A co-creators copyright agreement

Is Joint Copyright Ownership Possible?

Federal copyright laws address situations where two or more individuals collaborate together to develop a single work. The creators of these types of products or intellectual property are considered to be joint copyright holders, and all of the creators will be listed on the copyright. Each individual who is listed has an independent ability to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office and to enforce the copyright, if it becomes necessary, in federal court. This means that if anyone infringes on the copyright, any one of the joint copyright holders can take the issue to court.

Joint copyright law also protects one creator from being sued by another creator for exercising their copyright rights. For example, a co-author cannot sue the other author for copying, selling, or distributing a book that both hold jointly.

The Importance of Clear Legal Documents in Co-Creation

Co-creators often work very closely with each other. In many cases, co-creators are close friends, colleagues, or even relatives or spouses. Their real-life personal relationship may be why their creative partnership is so effective: they deeply understand each other’s skills and personalities.

Although introducing legal documents into a close-knit relationship can be difficult, it can also prevent hurtful situations that destroy relationships. Your copyright lawyer can help you and your co-creator(s) with these challenging conversations and decisions, such as who is responsible for various portions of the work, how much will be paid and when, how will the cost be split, and more. Legal conversations may feel awkward or make one party feel like there is a lack of trust, but they are vitally important to a successful partnership, especially when copyrights become involved.

Ideally, these issues should be addressed at the beginning of the creative relationship, particularly when the project will be complicated, intensive, time-consuming, or anticipates a high profit, such as a music album, movie, or valuable patent. All creative co-partners will benefit from detailed conversations and legal documentation with their Arizona intellectual property lawyers. Having these conversations before problems happen will save time and help avoid conflict later.

How To Draft a Joint Copyright Ownership Agreement

Often, a simple written agreement at the beginning of the creative relationship is all that is needed to prevent major conflict in the long run. This gives all parties the opportunity to discuss critical issues with their intellectual property lawyers and each other. Some important topics to consider in your copyright agreement could include:

  • Royalties: How will profits be divided between you and your co-creator(s)? Will proceeds be split evenly between all parties or divided according to investment, time, experience, work, etc.?
  • Costs: Who will be responsible for the costs of the project? Will they be divided equally between all involved parties, dependent upon each person’s resources, or based on some other factors? What about unanticipated expenses? What will happen if you earn less profit than anticipated?
  • Control: Once the work is finished, who will get to decide how it’s used? Will licensing decisions need to be unanimously approved, or can one member make the decisions alone? Which decisions require unanimity and which require a simple majority?
  • Sale of rights: What will happen if one co-creator eventually wants to sell his or her rights in the work? Will the other parties be able to approve a potential buyer or have the first right of refusal to purchase the rights themselves?
  • Credits: How will the co-creators be credited when the work is publicly performed or displayed? Will all of your names be listed, with what titles, and in what order? How might this change if one creator sells their rights?

Depending on what type of content you are creating and its nature, there may be other important decisions or factors to consider in your joint copyright ownership agreement. It’s always a good idea to consult with an intellectual property lawyer before finalizing any agreements.

Protect your Intellectual Property with Legal Advice from Arizona’s Leading Copyright Attorney

If you or a group of colleagues have developed an original work that you want to protect under U.S. copyright law, consult with the attorneys at Denton Peterson Dunn. We have successfully assisted many clients with the complexities and challenges of copyright filing, infringement, and protection. Learn more about how we can protect your intellectual property and guide you through the copyright process by contacting our office today!


Brad Denton, Business Lawyer
 – Denton Peterson Dunn

1930 N Arboleda #200
Mesa, AZ 85213

Office: 480-660-3249
Email: [email protected]

7272 E Indian School Rd #540-132
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Phone: 480-690-3283
Email: [email protected]