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Rediscover The Law: Joint Authorship Requires More Than the Authors' Intent to Merge Their Contributions

By Jane Song and Todd Schneider of Paul Hastings LLP

A recent case out of the Northern District of Ohio, Corwin v. Quinonez,1 has helped shed light on an unusual aspect of copyright law that attorneys involved in copyright matters, including those involved in the diligence of intellectual property ownership as a part of a merger and acquisition or other transactions, should be aware of. Namely, in order for a copyrightable work to meet the definition of a “joint work” upon creation, the authors of such work must “entertain in their minds the concept of joint authorship.” This requirement is dissimilar from the laws of other areas of intellectual law, particularly patent law, where joint inventorship is based purely upon conception of the invention being protected by the patent at issue, regardless of the intent of the people involved in creating the invention or their contemplated ownership arrangement.

§ 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act defines a joint work as “a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.” Being a joint author of a copyrightable work gives rise to certain special rights and obligations. § 201(a) of the U.S. Copyright Act provides that: “[t]he authors of a joint work are co-owners of copyright in the work.” As a co-owner, each joint author is free to exploit th...

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