Monday, June 7, 2010

Magic Words for Copyright Transfer

Last week the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Minnesota) ruled in Thomsen v. Famous Dave's of Am., a case involving a copyright infringement claim by an independent signage designer that designed and built various signs and interior elements for Famous Dave’s Restaurant around the Twin Cities. Following a prior dispute between the parties, where Thomsen alleged infringement of his copyright (no work for hire agreement or other assignments were entered into), the parties entered into a settlement agreement. As a part of that settlement, the parties agreed that:
    Thomson ". . . is releasing all copyright, proprietary design and sign work to [Famous Dave's] in all other restaurants that he has worked on with the exception of . . ."

Adopting language from the 9th Circuit, the Bench ruled that
    " A transfer of ownership requires no "magic words" to satisfy copyright law; even "a one-line pro forma statement will do." (citing, Radio Television Espanola S.A. v. New World Entm't, Ltd. , 183 F.3d 922, 927 (9th Cir. 1999)).

While not earth-shattering, this opinion is interesting in that it appears to be the first opinion in Minnesota that explicitly adopts the position that simple wording in a copyright transfer can meet the necessary language needed to assign a copyright under Section 204(a) of the Copyright Act as long as the basic terms are of the transfers are spelled out.

For Creatives, this opinion makes clear the importance of having clear and understandable agreements in place. Reliance on technicalities is not in the best interest of the parties. While some aspects of copyright transfers and assignments require “magic words,” other aspects can be transferred or otherwise affected by ill-fitting language and contradictory clauses. Having a contract reviewed by an attorney can help by providing trained eyes to help make sure that what you think you are signing is what you are actually signing.

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