Dear Rich: If two siblings inherit the copyrights to a work written by one of their parents, can each sibling independently grant permission to use the copyrighted material without asking the other, or must both agree? They have not established a partnership or any other legal entity to handle the copyrights. As co-owners of the copyright, the siblings have a legal status known as “tenants in common.” Each sibling has an independent right to use or nonexclusively license the work—provided that the sibling accounts to the other sibling (co‑owner) for any profits. However, all co-owners must consent to an assignment of the work (a permanent transfer of copyright ownership) or to an exclusive license (an agreement granting rights solely to one person).
For example, if a publishing company wanted an exclusive license to sell the work (that is, the publisher is the only company that can sell the work), the publisher must obtain the consent of both owners. In addition, someone must obtain the consent of both siblings if the siblings have an agreement requiring joint consent. Finally, outside the U.S. some countries refuse to recognize even nonexclusive licenses when granted by one co-owner (so that may put a dent on a worldwide license).