As discussed before, copyright demands an “original work of authorship.” The demand of authorship has been interpreted to be the person “originating, making, producing, as the inventive or master mind, the thing which is to be protected.” Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony. This is not the only definition, depending on the type of material to be copyrighted, there may be tests related to the material.
As a quick aside, author is the name given to the creator of the material. Thus, under copyright law, there are authors of paintings. There are authors of sculptures and musical compositions. This is a foible of defining many types of arts into copyright and is not to denigrate painters, actors, composers, or other creators as secondary authors. It is easier to write only author rather than a huge list of every type of possible creation and it avoids the interpretation problems with lists.
At the center of these tests is the idea of one or more people (yes, there have been arguments over non-human actors) creating something within the realm of copyright, such as a picture, book, or movie. The other demand is the creation needs to be more than something minimal or trivial to the work, taken in the context of the work.
The other requirement for a joint work or co-authorship is an objective manifestation of such. The courts have taken the step to protect an author and the author’s work. After all, “[t]oo open a definition of author would compel authors to insulate themselves and maintain ignorance of the contributions others might make.” “Progress would be retarded rather than promoted, if an author could not consult with others and adopt their useful suggestions without sacrificing sole ownership of the work.” Aalmuhammed v. Lee.
This protection of an author as “auteur” permits editing, consultations, discussions, and more in the name of progressing the arts without granting to every Lois, Clark, and Bruce ownership through authorship.
Instead, if co-authorship is desired, then the multiple authors must demonstrate the willingness and intent to be co-authors. Whether this is through a signed agreement, writing credits, or otherwise, without such evidence the presumption will be of a single author.
The goal of copyright is to promote progress for the arts. Without protecting an author’s rights, “the arts would be the poorer.” Lee.