Copyright Owner Means Copyright Owner

On October 10, 2013, in Copyrights, by Brian A. Hall

UnIntellectual Property (UnIP): Copyright Ownership of Film Directed

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York made quick work of a copyright dispute over copyright ownership.  Plaintiff sought declaratory judgments respecting the ownership of the copyright to a short film that Plaintiff produced and Defendant Merkin directed.

Merkin had registered a copyright with the US Copyright Office in the Film.  The Court agreed with the Plaintiff’s request to invalidate the registration.  In doing so, it reiterated some black letter law regarding copyright registration and invalidation of the same:

“A certificate of copyright registration is prima facie evidence that the copyright is valid.” Fonar Corp. v. Domenick, 105 F.3d 99, 104 (2d Cir.1997). The presumption created by the copyright registration, however, is not irrebuttable—it merely places the burden to prove invalidity on the party opposing the registration. Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Cover Corp., 773 F .2d 411, 414 (2d Cir.1985); accord Estate of Burne Hogarth v. Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., 342 F.3d 149, 16667 (2d Cir.2003). That burden may be met by “other evidence in the record [that] casts doubt on” the registration’s validity. Fonar Corp., 105 F.3d at 104 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted); see also id. (listing cases where the burden has been met).”
The Court ultimately held that: “Here, evidence in the record does more than call the registration into question. As discussed above, the record shows that Merkin was not an author of the film and is entitled to no copyright protection at all. Accordingly, the Court has no difficulty finding that Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment invalidating Merkin’s copyright registration. Conversely, the Court denies Merkin’s motion for a declaratory judgment upholding the registration’s validity.”
My takeaway, which I knew and you should know: If you are not the author/creator, and you do not have a contract assigning you rights in the copyright, you are not the owner and cannot claim the same in a copyright registration.  Period.
16 Casa Duse, LLC v. Merkin, 12 CIV. 3492 RJS, 2013 WL 5510770 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2013).


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