Copyright Litigation Decision – Supreme Court of Indiana

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Conwell v. Grey Loon Outdoor Marketing Group, Inc.
No: 82S04-0806-CV-00309 (May 19, 2009)
Supreme Court of Indiana
Before: Sullivan, Dickson, Shepard, Rucker, and Boehm

Click here for full opinion.

COPYRIGHT; OWNERSHIP (A contractor who created copyrighted material for a principal was the owner because the work for hire doctrine applies only to employees, and the contractor never transferred the copyright.)

Opinion (Shepard): Plaintiff Piece of America (POA) contracted Grey Loon Outdoor Marketing Group (Grey Loon) to build a website. Grey Loon subsequently finished the website, and hosted it as well.  Eventually, POA failed to pay for ongoing hosting and work, and Grey Loon removed the website without making backup copies.  POA sued Grey Loon for conversion of the website.  Conversion requires ownership of the object converted.  If an employee creates copyrighted material in the scope of employment, the material belongs to the employee.  However, Grey Loon was an independent contractor, and therefore was the owner of the website.  Grey Loon also never transferred ownership of the website to POA. The court held that Grey Loon had merely granted an implied nonexclusive license to POA and therefore, Grey Loon was the owner of the copyright for the website.  Affirmed.

Source:  Willamette Law Online

People, be sure you clarify ownership of your website in your Website Design and Hosting Agreement.  More often than not, the copyright will remain with your designer unless you negotiate for it, which could raise the designer’s fees.

For a complete analysis of the facts of the case, check out Exclusive Rights, a copyright law blog.