How to Avoid the Type of Co-Founder Dispute We Saw Between YouTuber Criken and a Contributor to his ICU Game.

I was reading an article about a dispute that took place in 2016 between a popular YouTuber, Criken, and a co-developer of his ICU game. This dispute resulted in a lawsuit against the YouTuber. It has since been resolved, but it raised some issues that I thought are very important for content creators and collaborators in software and other tech projects  

At its heart, this matter dealt with several issues that I spoke about in  few videos on my YouTube Channel including, YouTubers Collab & the Law, Who has a Copyright in a YouTube collaboration? If interested, you can check that video here:

Before we start, let's get something straight. I was in no way involved in this lawsuit. I do have not any special knowledge of the events leading to this lawsuit nor do I know who was right or wrong here ... and frankly, I don't care. What I want to discuss was why problems like this actually arise. You'd be surprised to know, maybe not, that this type of problem comes up very often. Too often.

From the articles, video and complaint I read, it appears that this all started as a series of college projects pitched by one or more individuals but worked on by up to 30 individuals. At some point in the development of the game, according to the complaint, the lead individual formed an LLC and started a commercial version of the game. This lead to a kickstarter campaign in which at least one individual, who claimed to have contributed a substantial amount of code to the game, was not mentioned as a founder or contributor. Nor was he given any equity in the LLC or profit sharing in the game. 

Now. Without getting into what is correct or not with the facts ... this problem was inevitable. In fact it happens a great deal of the time. Many projects, whether software developments, YouTube channels or product prototype development are started by friends, colleagues and college students. And more often then not there is no formal agreement between the founders. 

Let me ask you. If you never make decisions ahead of time as to who owns what, who has rights or who benefits, how will this be sorted out in the future?  

Unfortunately, I've had to help too many ex-partners wind down several ventures simply because no one gave any thought to ownership and rights during the projects' initial phases. Now, in the case above, the University should have helped the students setup some legal structure at the initial stage of the project. But the same is true in all circumstances. 

I recently worked on such a project where to keep things clear, the initial founder kept 100% of the shares in the LLC while everyone else had the ability to earn a percentage of future revenue. And when problems with co-contributors rose (as they often do) all we had to do is look back to the agreement to resolve it.  

It's really not that difficult. A comprehensive agreement is best but anything in writing is better then just ignoring it. 

You're going to start several projects in the future with friends and colleagues. It may be collaborated videos, new companies or tech projects. Take a few minutes. Sit down with everyone involved. Figure out who owns what; who has any intellectual property rights; and, who may particpate in future revenue. You'll never regret those initial minutes you spent planning.