Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Software Programs: Joint Authorship, Work for Hire and Declaratory Judgment Actions for Copyright Ownership

Woods v. Resnick, 2010 WL 2814414 (W.D. Wis. July 16, 2010) involved two men who were members of an LLC.   One was the "idea guy".  The other was a software programmer who worked from home.

The "idea guy" claimed that he owned the software.  He hired an expert to show that he'd made independently copyrightable contributions, which is one of the requirements of joint authorship.  The court disregarded the expert's findings in part because the expert was not an expert in copyright law and found that the "idea guy" had supplied only some non-copyrightable formulas.

The software programmer worked at home, was the only one with access to the source code, worked independently, and importantly, never signed a work for hire agreement.

The court considered cross-motions for summary judgment.   From the decision, it does not appear that either party registered any claims with the Copyright Office. The court found the software programmer to be the "sole author" of the software program and thus the owner.

Interestingly, the court considered an argument that the LLC's representations to third party that it was the sole owner were admissions that the software programmer had transferred the copyright to the LLC.  17 USC 204(a) provides

§ 204. Execution of transfers of copyright ownership

(a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner's duly authorized agent.

The court rejected the argument that the representations and warranties contained in service agreements to licensees that the LLC owned the copyright were sufficient to create an assignment satisfying 17 USC 204(a).

More on joint authorship here.

More on work for hire doctrine here.

More on assignments of copyright here.

More on declaratory judgments here.

Purchase Copyright Litigation Handbook from West here  

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