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What are the implications of the joint ownership of copyright?

Now let's consider the case of 2 software engineers, or other authors who jointly write a copyright work, and therefore jointly own the copyright in that work.

Again, they expect their relationship, because it was based on joint ownership, to be joint, mutual, and with equal benefits.

As before, they either:

  1. had no agreement governing their joint ownership rights, or
  2. had an agreement, but it was silent on their respective joint ownership rights.

That being the case, the law will step in to provide a default position on 3 critical questions:

1 Can a joint owner of copyright exploit (copy or reproduce) the copyright work without the consent of the other joint owner and without accounting to the other joint owner for any of the profits from doing so? No
2 Can a joint owner of a copyright work assign its interest in the copyright work without the consent of the other joint owner? No
3 Can a joint owner of a copyright work grant an exclusive license of the copyright work without the consent of the other joint owner? No

The result now is that neither joint owner can realise any economic benefits whatsoever, without them doing so together.

Sometimes this might operate fairly, ensuring that the joint owners benefit together.

But it could just as likely operate unfairly, with an uncooperative joint owner placing roadblocks that prevent the joint owners realising economic benefits from their joint copyright.

The lesson is that it is not desirable to be silent on these issues of exploitation, assignment and licensing, but rather, to specifically address them, and for a joint ownership agreement to regulate in an agreed manner the respective rights of the joint owners in relation to these 3 critical questions.