Copyright Compendium

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Chapter 2400

505.3 The Scope of the Copyright in a Joint Work

505.3 The Scope of the Copyright in a Joint Work


Determining whether a work of authorship is a joint work has important implications for the ownership of the copyright and the term of the copyright.


The authors of a joint work jointly own the copyright in each other’s contributions and

each author owns an undivided interest in the copyright for the work as a whole. 17


U.S.C. § 201 (A). In other words, all the authors are “treated generally as tenants in common, with each co-owner having an independent right to use or license the use of a work, subject to a duty of accounting to the other co-owners for any profits.” H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 121, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5736; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 104.


If the work of authorship was created by two or more individuals, the copyright in the joint work expires seventy years after the death of the last surviving author. 17 U.S.C. § 302 (B). If the joint work was created by two or more authors as a work made for hire, an anonymous work, or a pseudonymous work, the copyright expires ninety-five years from the year of publication or 120 years from the year of creation (whichever is shorter). 17 U.S.C. § 302 (C). The term “for an anonymous or pseudonymous work can be converted to the ordinary life-plus-[seventy] term if ‘the identity of one or more of the [joint] authors . . . is revealed’ in . . . records maintained for this purpose in the Copyright Office.” H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 137, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5753; S. REP. NO.

94-473, at 120. In this situation, the term of the copyright is “based on the life of the

author or co-authors whose identity has been revealed.” 17 U.S.C. § 302 (C).

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