Why a Collaboration Agreement is Essential

Collaboration Agreements, co-author agreements, and work-for hire agreements, are best entered into before hand, but it is never too late.

The internet has revolutionized the ability to collaborate and has eliminated many limitations. It is not uncommon for a collaboration that produces valuable content to start informally. Often, little attention is paid to legal ramifications, like copyrights or trademarks. This could prove to be a costly mistake.

You may want to consider the following potential issues and concerns prior to exchanging ideas and beginning work on any collaborative effort.

What are the legal ramifications of not having a written agreement among collaborators?

If you fail to write your own rules and a dispute arises, you may be bound by certain default rules.

  • Without your want, intent, or choosing, other co-collaborators may:
    • own an equal % of the copyrights and trademarks,
    • have the ability to license this content,
    • adapt the work into other formats,
    • keep each other from using their own content.   
  • Who has final approval over different aspects of the project? 

what if the work has already begun or the project is complete, is it too late to sign a collaboration agreement?

It is never to late to sign an agreement, or amend one that has already been agreed to if circumstances change.

  • So long as issues have not already arisen, a written agreement can provide all parties with some some security and a standard to which they will be held accountable.

What if the collaboration is just an informal situation?

You want to be sure to have your ducks in a row before potentially lucrative opportunities arise.

  • Aspirations can change, and an informal effort can rapidly or unexpectedly turn into a serious project.
  • Publishers, distributors, and others commonly require that all collaborators have a signed agreement before they will license any content or work with them in any way.

what is the starting point for a collaboration agreement?

The overall goal should be to avoid escalating any tensions by planning for the unexpected. 

  • Focus on addressing concerns with an eye toward a fair resolution.
  • Provide for remedies when things do not go as expected.
  • Set forth guidelines of what is expected from all involved parties.

What about work for hire?

Don't leave a work for hire situation up to the courts, instead, agree in writing to exactly what you want.

  • Legal determinations can vary widely when deciding if:
    • a collaborator is an employee versus and independent contractor; and
    • the specific work falls within the law's requirements to be classified as a work for hire. 
  • If you don't want to give up your copyright in the work, draft a clause that provides for you to retain all rights, title, and interest in the created work.

Don't delay, draft a collaboration agreement today

Friendships and business relationships can be strained or destroyed when working together. Despite that, some of the greatest works of all time have been collaborations. Plan ahead, follow the above guidelines, and have all parties sign a written agreement.

For more on what specific concerns should be addressed in a collaboration agreement, see Top Concerns that Should be Addressed in a Written Agreement Signed by All Collaborators. (Part 1)