View Full Version : Rights and handling of intellectual property developed with a collaborator?

Curious Person
03-27-2010, 04:33 AM
I was recently involved in a collaboration with a friend on the creation and development of intellectual property for a work of fiction (characters, plot devices, etc.). My collaborator (who originated the seed ideas of the IP) gave me written permission via email to take over development of the IP. I did so, and sought further permission to write a novel based on the IP, which was granted.

At this point, my collaborator is expressing regret regarding my takeover of the IP. We have agreed that I may continue to write a novel based on our co-developed IP and that I may seek publishing of this novel. I offered to buy exclusive rights to the IP from my former collaborator, but was declined, with the caveat that he will take no legal action against me.

I know I can't expect free professional legal advice online, but some pointers would be appreciated.

03-27-2010, 04:46 AM
My pointer is that you really need professional legal advice. Sooner rather than later. Likely before you have an agent. Here's why:

If you can't sign a legal document certifying that you hold exclusive copyright on the entire book (and from the above, I'm not sure you do - you need a lawyer to go over everything in detail to tell you that), then you will not be able to sign a contract with a publisher until that issue is resolved. That's because the publisher's contract will almost certainly have a clause that says you certify you own all exclusive rights and agree to indemnify and hold publisher harmless if you don't.

And, no matter how well you know this person, once money is involved, and an agent getting ready to shop it will smell like money, that friend is likely to want a cut of the money, if not the credit. And then your agent will have to get this issue resolved before shopping it.

And you can't fail to tell your eventual agent this possible issue from the get go.

So, my advice is to get the legal advice now, so you know the situation and can take whatever steps necessary to resolve it before there is money on the table or the prospect of money on the table, and before you get anyone else involved.

good luck.


03-27-2010, 04:57 AM
What suki said. You need legal advice NOW and you need a contract that clearly spells out what IP each person owns NOW.

Lesson learned: always have a contract in place before collaborating with someone. Period. No exceptions. It will protect your work and protect the friendship as well.

Curious Person
03-27-2010, 05:02 AM
Thank you both. Speaking with a legal professional does seem to be the best course of action. I appreciate the explanation of ramifications, suki.

03-27-2010, 05:21 AM
You might also want to consider dropping it and starting again.

Your friend has been telling you what you want to hear. He's saying you have full control of the idea... but he wants to write a novel in that universe later (hence he doesn't want you to have full control, and regrets saying it). He's saying he's okay with it... but he feels resentful. He's saying he doesn't want to stop you... but everyone else you've said implies he does.

It doesn't seem worth the legal hassle or the friendship breakup. If he's resentful now, he'd be even more so if it were published and successful. Starting fresh with your own project would be a lot less nasty and complicated (and have no legal fees).

03-27-2010, 10:15 AM
I was burned badly in a collaboration, and not even by my collaborator....didn't happen until third parties got involved. So I cannot stress enough what's already been said: either get legal advice and get everything sorted in a legally binding contract, or else drop the project. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

03-27-2010, 12:17 PM
Call a lawyer and ask,

03-27-2010, 07:09 PM
I had a collaborator for many years. We produced several books, none of which sold but were received well, and developed at least a dozen ideas beyond what we wrote. We've been best friends since 1987 (and still are) and didn't start writing together until the mid 1990's.

Even so, when we decided to collaborate, we sat down and discussed the legalities and wrote up a contract between the two of us, signed it with witnesses and got it notorized. The items we outlined was how any monies earned would be handled, who the beneficiaries of each person's rights were, and what would happen to the developed and undeveloped properties should the collaboration dissolve.

Think of it as a "collaboration pre-nup", which is how we did.

We got this idea from reading Donald Maass' The Career Novelist (I believe it's avaiable free from his website now), where he talks about the joys and hazards of collaborative writing.

When she decided in 1997 that she was uninterested in seeking publication anymore, at all, that ended the collaboration. I now own the collab pen name, control of all the finished novels and their worlds (though if I ever sold what we wrote, we have a gentlemen's agreement that I would give her a cut of the advance only), and we split up the undeveloped projects according to our personal enthusiasm for them.

Because we had this agreement in place, the "break up" was far less painful or emotional and when one or the other of us has a solid idea about a project the other owns, we can still sit and discuss it reasonably. We still have a good enough relationship that we have the best brainstormers for "post-divorce" projects and have occasionally given one over to the other if their idea was better than ours.

At this stage, I agree that the OP should consult a lawyer. However, if there's another collab possible in the future, it's good to think about how the partnership runs and not just about the idea. It's always so much bigger and complicated than just the idea.

Good luck with your situation.

03-27-2010, 10:53 PM
Throw it all away and start over with your own ideas and characters.

03-27-2010, 11:03 PM
Throw it all away and start over with your own ideas and characters.

This is the best, cleanest way to handle things, of course.

03-27-2010, 11:19 PM
When she decided in 1997 that she was uninterested in seeking publication anymore, at all, that ended the collaboration.

And this. Whatever you do, get it in writing. Always.

Linda Adams
03-27-2010, 11:25 PM
Throw it all away and start over with your own ideas and characters.

I had to do this when I broke up with my cowriter. Best thing I did.