Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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801.6 Joint Authorship in Works of the Performing Arts

801.6 Joint Authorship in Works of the Performing Arts

Joint works are works “prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.

Works of the performing arts often have more than one author, and in many cases, the authors are joint authors. It is important to name each author in the application and clearly identify the authorship each author contributed to the work.

The Office may communicate with the applicant to confirm whether the work is a joint work if it appears that authors of the separate elements of the work did not intend to join the works into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.

If the multiple authors of a work created their contributions with the intention of merging them into a unitary, interdependent whole at the time of creation, their contributions should be registered together as a joint work on the same application. If the authors did not intend for their separate elements to be merged into an interdependent whole, the separate copyrightable elements should be registered as separate works on separate applications. See H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 120 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5736 (stating that the “touchstone” of the definition of a joint work “is the intention, at the time the writing is done, that the parts be absorbed or combined into an integrated unit … “); S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 103 (1975). If the parts of the unitary work are inseparable, each joint author must be listed in the application unless the work is a work made for hire.


• Jay Munroe, Justin Edison, and Ava Applebaum wrote a musical drama together, entitled Life on Mars. Jay wrote the book (script), and Justin and Ava wrote the songs, with Justin writing the lyrics and Ava the music. Jay, Justin, and Ava are joint authors of the musical and all three of them should be named in the application.

• Jay Munroe writes the script for a new musical based on music previously recorded by the recording artist, Shawn 2K. He obtains the appropriate licenses from Shawn 2K to use the music in the musical. Jay and Shawn 2K are not joint authors. The script and the music should be registered separately.

For more information on joint works, see Chapter 500, Section 505.

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