Rogers and Hammerstein. Abbot and Costello. Timbaland and, well, everyone. When two or more people come together to make with the intent to beautiful music, or whatever, together, that usually gives rise to a joint work to which those parties who contributed to its creation have an interest in. However, often one or more of the authors is not aware of their rights, or wrongly believes the actually have no rights. Let’s clear the air a little bit.
A joint work is created when two or more authors collaborate in the creation of a work with the intent both to create a unified work and to be co-authors. Additionally, each author must make more than a minor contribution to the work. In some jurisdictions, each contribution must be independently copyrightable in and of itself.
Every joint author has an undivided interest in copyright of a joint work, all rights that come with copyright ownership. That means each joint author is free to make reproductions or derivative works, distribute, perform,, play, or transmit the work. However, each joint author has a duty to account to (read: share profits with) all other joint authors for any profits reaped from use of the copyright, such as licensing.
Of course, all of this is in the absence of an agreement between the joint authors. A common situation is a “work for hire,” where all creative contributions of everyone who is “hired” becomes the property of another. If an agreement between the parties does not include such a specific requirement, a number of factors will be considered, including the provision of employee benefits, the tax treatment of hired party, the skill required in the performing the creative work, the right of the hiring party to control manner and means of creation, and the right of the hiring party to assign new projects.
The moral of the story? Unless you like unwelcome surprises, it is best to set the expectations of everyone involved in the creation of a creative work before any work gets done by getting it down in writing.