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I am involved in a three way partnership with narrator and illustrator to share royalties from our book equally. However, as the author, the copyright to the book carries my name and year of first printing (via Amazon's Createspace using their free ISBN.) Am I the sole/primary owner of this work?

No monies were paid up front to the illustrator nor to me as the writer. The narrator who asked me to write her story is also to receive one-third of the profits, and we have a written agreement to that effect. Seems simple, but if things get complicated down the road, could the copyright situation potentially create a legal tug-of-war with my partners?

We're all close friends now, and I would like to keep it that way.

Paula Kirby, Author
(THE LIGHT ON THE STAIRS)

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    What do you mean by 'narrator'? – evilsoup May 6 '16 at 21:19
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When you register a copyright with the US Copyright office, there is space on the form (paper or on-line) for multiple authors. For example, here's the paper form: http://copyright.gov/forms/formtx.pdf There is a place to fill in just what each author's contribution is. Like you could say, "Alice Smith", "text" and "Bob Jones", "illustrations".

You can find plenty of books that say, "Copyright 2010 by Alice Smith and Bob Jones" and the like. Lots of books have multiple authors.

Does CreateSpace have an option for Amazon to register the copyright for you? I've published two books with Amazon and in both cases I registered the copyright myself. If there's an option for that and you gave only your own name and not your co-authors, that's a mistake. Note that getting an ISBN is not the same as registering a copyright.

In any case, nothing on a copyright registration says how royalties are to be divided. As TrskalJM says, you should discuss the division, write up a contract, and all sign it. You say you have a written agreement about the "narrator"s portion, anyway. Does that also specify the division between you and the illustrator? If not, you should write that up also. Putting things on paper can prevent confusion and arguments down the road. "I thought I was supposed to get 35%." "No, we agreed you'd get 25%." "That's not what we said last year." Etc. People forget exactly what was said, interpret words differently, make assumptions, change their minds about what's fair, etc.

If the "narrator" hasn't actually written any text, just told her story and you wrote it down, she wouldn't have any claim to copyright. The actual author and illustrator certainly would. But as I said, copyright registration doesn't specify division of royalties. There are all sorts of reasons why someone not named on the copyright registration might get a share of the royalties. That's why you need a written agreement.

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First off, let me say that I'm not a lawyer, just a freelance editor that's done contract work.

It appears you have no current written documents that answer the question of ownership. You need to get one. Quickly. At a minimum, it needs to have the following:

  • Who retains the copyright.
  • How the copyright is to be transferred (written authorization from all the copyright holders, unanimous decision, etc.)

Start with a conversation with the other partners, and see if they care about the copyright. They may not, in which case, I'd still make a contract and have them sign, saying they are declining the copyright.

Friends are friends, but people change. Contracts protect both you and them and show that you're taking the work seriously.

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