Collaboration Agreements

A collaboration agreement is a contract between the authors of a joint work setting forth respective ownership, rights, credits, royalties, expenses, and responsibilities.  If you are collaborating with someone on any significant work – a short story or a novel – you should have a collaboration agreement.  Let’s look at the key issues:

Ownership of Rights. By default under copyright law, all authors of a joint work own an undivided interest in the copyright, but nothing prevents you from setting percentages of ownership, or “slicing and dicing” these rights to suit your purposes. For example, you may wish to provide that only one author be entitled to exploit serial rights, foreign or film rights.

Responsibilities.  How will you and your collaborator share in all tasks and responsibilities to complete the Work, and to secure its publication and other exploitation, including research, writing, and editing of the Work?

Author Credit.  How will references to the authorship of the Work. now and in the future, whether orally or in writing, be listed?  Whose name will appear first?

Expenses and Royalties.  How will research and other expense be shared – equally? Will royalties also be divided equally, or according to ownership interest, or by some other formula?

Derivative Works.  How will derivative works, such as sequels or serializations, be handled?  If equally, what happens if one author declines to participate in such a derivative work – will the other(s) be free to go forward on his/their own?  If so, what shall the non-participating collaborator be entitled to receive, out of any net proceeds?

Approvals.  How will all editorial, business and other decisions affecting the Work which require the consent of the author be made – jointly, or by majority vote if more than two authors?

Death and Disability.  If one of you dies or becomes disabled before the completion of the work, will the other(s) have the right to complete the Work alone, or with new collaborators, and to make all literary, editorial and business decisions with respect to the Work?  If one of you dies after completion of the Work, will that person’s estate share in the copyright and exploitation of the Work, or will rights revert to the remaining collaborator(s) in return for a specified payment?

Termination.   What happens if one of you withdraws from the collaboration before the final manuscript of the Work is completed and accepted for publication?  Or what if you find that you are unable to continue to work together through the completion of the Work?  Will there be a mechanism, such as binding arbitration, to determine (a) which of you is entitled to complete the Work; and (b) what authorship credit and compensation, if any, shall be paid to the collaborator who does not participate?

These are the major, but by no means the only, issues to address in an agreement.  Although model collaboration agreements can be found in many writer’s reference books and online, as always it is best to consult a publishing attorney.

© 2010 Daniel Steven