Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Collaborative Research: Conflicts on Authorship, Ownership, and Accountability


The artist, starving in a garret; the dedicated scientist, experimenting in a garage; the reclusive professor, burning midnight oil in the office-these are becoming endangered species. The creative industries have evolved: collaborative production is replacing individual effort. Works of the new order are exemplified by the likes of New- Stand, the television news magazine produced by teaming the cable station CNN with Time Magazine;' by Rent, a play created by Jonathan Larson with the help of the dramaturg, Lynn Thomson; by "distance learning" initiatives at many universities," and most especially, by the multi-authored articles now common in scientific journals.' The reasons for this evolution are manifold. In large part, it is a consequence of intellectual limitations. In many fields-biotechnology is one example-the intensity of specialization makes it nearly impossible for any one researcher to know enough to work alone; interdisciplinary investigation is essential if the frontiers of knowledge are to be pushed forward. The globalization of the marketplace has also had an influence, for in that environment, multinational input is needed to produce goods that appeal across a broad range of cultures. Advances in the tools of creativity account for yet another part of the change. Most obviously, the growth of the internet has made long distance collaborations much easier. More subtly, the web, when coupled with advances in scanning and digitizing technologies, has created new artistic forms, such as chain novels and chain art- what might be called sequential collaboration. One author puts a story on a website, intending that others will add new plotlines and characters; an artist uploads an image, expecting it to be repeatedly down- loaded, manipulated, and uploaded.! There is also an economic factor. As the costs of making even marginal advances surge, firms find that hiring needed expertise on a permanent basis is not as cost effective as entering into transient associations. In academia, where the push toward collaboration is especially notable, the rise in costs has been accompanied by a steady decline in public financing, leading both faculty members and university administrators to search hard for new sources of support.' In fields where theory and application converge, these have become easy to find, and they have led to close relation- ships between commercial entities and faculty working in such disciplines as medicine, chemistry, and computer science. Finally, intellectual property law has, in recent years, expanded to cover an array of creative efforts that were previously largely ignored or considered ineligible for protection. With that move, there is work that once appeared to be individually developed, which must now be viewed as multi-authored.'