The long-lasting litigation over the authorship of the screenplay for the 2016 film “Florence Foster Jenkins” has resulted in the court finding that Julia Kogan (the Claimant) was a co-author of the screenplay with the contribution valued at 20%. Mr Justice Meade’s decision came following a retrial after an earlier judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
This is an unusual decision which reflects a changing approach toward defining artistic contribution. Ms Kogan was in a relationship with the named author of the screenplay and provided input throughout the process from the original idea to edits and suggestions on the plot and characterisation right the way through to the finished product.
As the judge put it: “Ms Kogan was not a mere researcher or sounding-board. She performed some functions of those roles, but in a very close and iterative way which meant that she was directly and inextricably involved with integrating the information and thoughts that she gave into the finished product, with the resulting development of character and plot that I have described.”
Decisions on joint authorship are rare, and there were complicated reasons why this one has spent four years in the courts. Nevertheless, the cost and time spent on litigation such as this is a reminder to anyone who commissions content (including film, music and games) of the importance of establishing who owns the copyright and obtaining assignments and warranties where necessary.