One Thing Every Writer Should Know Before Writing a Play

By Kyu Hee Chu

Reviewed by Jennifer Williams

If you’re an author of a play or a musical, give yourself a few minutes to read this article – it may end up saving you a lot of time and energy in the future.  The advice is this – if you ever plan on creating a work with other authors (whether they are writers, lyricists, or composers), make sure you set up an authors’ collaboration agreement with them beforehand.  If you are already in the process of working with other authors, you might still want to consider creating one before the work is completed.

What is an Authors’ Collaboration Agreement?

An authors’ collaboration agreement is an agreement amongst authors which sets forth terms such as how royalties from the work will be split, how each writer will be credited, how the copyright of the work will be divided, and so on.[1]  This agreement is necessary because when you are working with other authors, misunderstandings may arise regarding any issues relating to the work, and without an agreement that already sets forth the terms of the working relationship, it may be difficult to come to a conclusion with which everyone is satisfied when the work has already begun or has been completed.

What are the Terms in an Authors’ Collaboration Agreement?

Well, let me start off by saying that there are many, many terms that can be included in an authors’ collaboration agreement. In this article, however, I will only be addressing some of the major terms, and they are:

a) Copyright: Copyright gives authors the right to authorize reproduction of all or part of their work, new versions of their work, distribution, public performance of the work, and public display of the work. Generally, unless the writers agree to a different split, each of them will get an equal ownership of the work.

b) Disagreements:  One way to solve disagreements between the authors regarding the work is by appointing the publisher or a third party as the ultimate decision maker as to the acceptability of the work. Should the authors fail to come to an understanding even after receiving the advice of the publisher or a third party, they can choose to terminate their agreement or submit the matter to mediation or arbitration.[2]

c) Merger: A merger clause embodies the authors’ agreement to have a specific time at which the work is deemed to be a unified, single work.  Generally, this clause provides that up until the specified time, any author may withdraw or be removed, and may take his contribution out of the work.  However, once the merger occurs, the work is final and may not be changed in any way without the mutual consent of all authors.

d) Removal or Withdrawal:  As stated above, an author may remove his contribution to the work if he withdraws before the merger occurs.  However, the parties may also agree that all contributions be retained as part of the work, and the author(s) would be compensated with a percentage of the revenues.  Furthermore, in the event disability or death befalls an author, the remaining parties may want to continue the work, so the parties may agree on a method to compensate the disabled author or his heirs.[3]

Remember that the terms that have been discussed above are just some of the terms that are included in an authors’ collaboration agreement, and are by no means an exhaustive list.  There are many other terms that may be important in shaping the future of your work and it is vital that you make sure to discuss different terms and possibilities with the other authors.  As they say, better safe than sorry!


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