Besides the fact that I have long admired Ms. Lithwick's writing and reporting, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about an attorney writing a fiction novel, even an attorney of Ms. Lithwick's considerable writing prowess. What makes this work of authorship newsworthy is that Ms. Lithwick's collaborators--her numerous "friends" on the social networking site Facebook. According to her interview, she sends out Facebook posts asking for help and her Facebook friends to chime in and collaborate on the story. Their input ranges from naming central characters to plot development. She also posts each chapter for review and comment.
This is such an interesting new way to write a novel. It is like having a focus group help you write every chapter, every plot twist, every detail. As intrigued as I was by this new model of writing, I was drawn in more by the potential conundrum of who might own the copyright to the work.
According to the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.A. Sec. 101, a joint work is “a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.” When analyzing joint authorship, we typically apply the two-pronged joint authorship test where we look to (1) contribution and (2) intent.
Under the contribution prong of the joint authorship test each author claiming to be a co-author must have contributed sufficient independent original expression that could stand on its own as copyrightable subject matter. Therefore, those who helped name the protagonist's husband would not be considered a joint author.
The next prong of the joint authorship test is mutual intent: a joint author must intend that his or her contribution be a part of a joint work (i.e., they must be a willing collaborator with other joint authors). Because of the collaborative nature of asking for input, posting chapters for review and input, and editing based on these contributions it would seem that the application of this prong of the test favors joint authorship for those Facebook "friends" who are contributing some significant content that on its own would garner copyright protection.
This is a very interesting experiment indeed.