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Has Anyone Here Ever Heard of "Joint and Several Ownership"?

Robert Drouhard , Sep 11, 2011; 04:42 p.m.

Hello everyone!
I am a newbie who needs some help. I have been asked to enter into an agreement where I would "joinly and severally" own the copyright to my photos with another person. The other party promises this means I retain all the rights to the photos, but I'm doubtful. I can't find any information on this type of arrangement.
Also, what should I charge for this? I ask because it is a very large number of photos (just over 4,000). They are digital pictures of the Middle East taken with a D50.

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Steve Solomon , Sep 11, 2011; 04:55 p.m.

Greetings, Robert. First let me compliment you on acquiring such a significant image collection! Secondly, this proposal sounds risky, and I would definitely consult with a copyright attorney before signing anything! AFAIK, the photographer owns copyright to his own images, unless he gives specific publication/use rights over to a second party. Good luck!

John H. , Sep 11, 2011; 05:51 p.m.

Joint and several ownership means that each person owns the full right to use the property to the fullest extent it can be used and potentially suffer up to all all the liability that may arise from it as well. Each party has what the other party has. When one person dies the other is left with sole ownership. Its like a joint checking account in many ways. This is distinguished from ownership known as tenants in common although that phrase is often associated with real estate. Tenants in common own a half interest. They may be able to use something to some large extent but ultimately they only are credited to owning half. Particularly when something is liquidated or someone dies, ect.

Basically, the effort in joint ownership is to take as much ownership right as you have but you are stuck with whatever they do with the images and vice versa. Would you want them to sell an exclusive license to someone else and not be compensated? Prudence would dictate that other terms be incorporated into any agreement to deal with usage, profit ect. if there is any agreement at all to be made.

If they think they can make money, can't they buy a substantial tailor made license from you? Why would they need to own the images with you?

Robert Drouhard , Sep 11, 2011; 06:09 p.m.

Thank you Steve and John. The person proposing this agreement is a professor and author, and wants to be able to use my photos for projects (commercial and non-commercial) without having to ask my permission. I have already given him (through a written agreement) perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty free use of them but he wants to change the agreement. I have done some research on the fair market value of these, but I can only find value for licencing, not "joint and several ownership." I don't think he knows how much these are actually worth. Thanks again guys!

John H. , Sep 11, 2011; 06:13 p.m.

Under the U.S. Copyright Act "[a] “joint work” is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole."

This relates to the creative phase but, absent authority to the contrary I haven't found, is consistent with the general legal features of joint ownership discussed above. I would refer to the copyright law where you live to see if there is any specialized rules for jointly owned copyright material. But now you know what joint ownership basically is.

John H. , Sep 11, 2011; 06:26 p.m.

He doesn't need joint ownership to accomplish those particular goals. You can tailor design a licensing agreement to achieve them. The biggest issue though is not needing your clearance but you can still give him that in a license. With joint ownership he can tie you up with his agreements with others and you can do the same. If he wants freedom with the images, why would he want to let you be in a position to tie him up as well? To get around it, you would need additional terms like neither party being allowed to grant exclusive licenses and stuff like that.

That was a lot of photography work. Personally, I'd put a very high price tag on what he wants. There's already been generous permissions granted as it is. But that's a personal choice for you to make.

Robert Drouhard , Sep 11, 2011; 06:36 p.m.

I meant to say he wants to be able to grant others use without having to clear it with me first.

John A , Sep 11, 2011; 06:43 p.m.

The rights you have granted already allow him to use the images for commercial and non-commercial projects except that it may not include the use by others, only himself--depends on your wording as the wording here would limit the use of the images by others even if he is behind it.

There is absolutely no reason to mess with the copyright itself as this can be handled with language that gives him what he wants while you hold the copyright. If you grant him the interest in the copyright he is asking, he can license the image to anyone for any purpose without your permission.

It used to be common that the sale of an image for exclusive unlimited use as to time and commercial use--would carry a price of $50,000 an image. With 4000 images, one would certainly bend somewhat from this but even $100 an image is $400,000 and would be more than reasonable for such a large grouping. Actually, $1000 per image would not be unreasonable. Either of these numbers would have been more than reasonable for the first grant of use as well.

Look to give him the rights he needs without the copyright interest but be sure you get a reasonable compensation for it. If he scales back the number of images to a much lower number, the price per image should increase. Part of the reason you take less for so many is that you know most will either never be used or used in limited ways. The less taken, the more likely they would be used in major ways.

John H. , Sep 11, 2011; 08:18 p.m.

The rights you have granted already allow him to use the images for commercial and non-commercial projects except that it may not include the use by others,

That makes no sense. Robert didn't tell us the extent of the use allowed so the commercial/non commercial aspect is obviously as uncertain to us as the sub licensing aspect is.

Robert Drouhard , Sep 11, 2011; 09:18 p.m.

I didn't specify the use in the original agreement, so I assume as long as he does not allow some other third party to use them, he can use them in any project he wants. I never wanted this to be so complicated. I have worked as a research assistant for him for several years, and this is all out of the blue.


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