Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


Scott C. Brophy


After nearly a century of the concept of joint authorship existing in the common law, Congress codified that body of law, with some changes, into the Copyright Act of 1976. There remain, however to this day two important but unsettled issues of law. One, whether putative joint authors must each contribute copyrightable expression to a work in order to be given joint author status, and whether the author must merely intend to combine his own work with that of another author, or whether he must more specifically intend the legal consequences of joint authorship. This Article addresses these issues which are at the core of joint authorship law in the United States, and tries to offer equitable solutions. The Article develops the entire history of joint authorship case law in the United States up until the Copyright Act of 1976, and uses it as a backdrop for the main issues discussed in the Article. The Article concludes that each contributor to a joint work must provide copyrightable expression, and further reasons that the courts must adopt a narrow view of intent which would require that courts look for evidence that putative coauthors intended the legal consequences of joint authorship. These issues are important, because along with author status come significant economic and moral benefits. To ensure that these benefits are not unjustly conferred upon an undeserving party, the courts must more clearly address these important issues.