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What is Joint Authorship in Copyright Law?

The Doctrine of Joint Authorship

According to Indian copyright law, an author is an individual who creates a work and is the exclusive proprietor of the work, at least in the first instance. If more than one person is engaged in the authoring process, the idea of Joint Authorship is introduced, where all authors share rights equally. According to the Copyright Act, collaborative authorship occurs when more than one author combine their contributions into inseparable or interdependent elements of a unified whole. So, if there is joint authorship, the work produced will be deemed collaborative. This means, for example, that an anthology would not qualify as a work of joint authorship.

authorship, joint authorship

Joint Author’s Rights and Duties

There are no special rights of a Joint Author; nonetheless, the rights and obligations of an author extend to all co-authors:

1. Each co-author will have equal ownership of the work. It will happen even if one of the co-authors has contributed more work than the other.

2. Each co-author will have an “undivided” stake in the work as a whole. If the publishing project includes graphics and text, the artist and writer will own 50% of the total work, i.e., the art and the text.

3. Any co-author may provide non-exclusive rights to the work to another co-author without the agreement of their fellow co-authors. On the other hand, a co-author may only award exclusive rights to the work to third parties with the previous approval of the other co-authors.

4. Each co-author is obligated to account to the other co-authors for any income from the work’s exploitation.

5. A co-author has the right to convey their ownership share in the work to a third party or leave it to their heirs.

6. Upon publication, each co-author will be given equal authorship credit for the work.

It also stated that when there is a partnership to cooperate and produce/create work that can be copyrighted, i.e., where there is joint authorship, all writers must independently meet the necessary copyright requirements in employment. In addition, as per the Berne Convention Article 7bis, the terms for Copyright in a work of Joint Authorship are computed from the death of the last surviving author.

Judicial Approach in India

In India, the courts have not that many cases dealing with and defining Joint Authorship.

One relevant case is that of Angath Arts Private Limited v. Century Communications Ltd. Anr. In this, the court declared that a “joint owner of a copyright could not transfer a license or interest in the copyright to a third party without the approval of the other joint owner” thereby confirming that all owners were equal co-sharers in the rights.

Another pivotal judgement for Joint Authorship is Najma Heptulla v. Orient Longman Ltd. And Ors. In this, royalties were split between the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and the estate of one of the deceased author, Maulana Azad. However, the Plaintiff argued that there could be no publication of this book as the copyright was theirs alone. In retaliation, the defendants argues that as per a prior agreement, the book in question was a work of joint authorship between Maulana Azad and Humayun Kabir. As Maulana Azad was deceased, Humayun Kabir’s permission was enough to proceed with the publishing.  

One question posed before the courts was if the current circumstances actually qualified as joint authorship. This in turn allowed the Court to re-state and clarify joint authorship law, as follows.

“According to Prof. Kabir’s foreword to the book above, Maulana Azad, used to explain his experiences in Urdu, from which Prof. Kabir would construct an English draught. The Copyright Act’s goal cannot grant authorship just to the individual whose language the literary piece is written in a while entirely disregarding the person who provided the full content. The topic content, as well as the language, are both significant. As a result, Maulana Azad and Prof. Kabir are co-authors.”

Similarly, in Institute For Inner Studies & Ors. vs Charlotte Anderson, the Delhi High Court declared that a person who had edited and compiled lectures into a single volume qualified as a joint author. The court noted that “compiling, preparing and transcribing lectures is hard work and requires labour and creativity”, giving the plaintiff authorship rights.

Author: Usha Saha, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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