Joint Authorship or Inventorship

The criteria defining joint authorship vary among disciplines. The narrowest definition comes from copyright law and applies to collaborations in literary and artistic works in some of the humanities. Under the Copyright Act a joint author is someone who has collaborated on a work in which the contributions of the various authors are not distinct from one another. In this model, only contributors to the form or expression of the work qualify; those supplying ideas normally do not.

If each person’s contribution is distinct (e.g. contributors of entries to an encyclopedia), the work is a “collective work” and each author has copyright in his or her individual contribution. However in the physical and life sciences, and increasingly in the social sciences and humanities, collaboration and teamwork are common, and a student’s research may be guided by a team or committee. Contributors to the original ideas in a project are typically given the right of joint authorship of publications that report on the results of the research.

As a guideline, co-authorship should be recognized only where the individuals have participated in a significant way in at least two of the following aspects of the research:

  • conception of idea and design of research or scholarly inquiry
  • actual collection of data collection, experiment or hands-on laboratory work
  • analysis and interpretation of data, and/or actual writing of the manuscript