Agreement’s Use of Phrase “Works Made for Hire” Precludes Parol Evidence Regarding Copyright Ownership

The court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment that it did not infringe on the plaintiff estate’s copyrights in 44 movie reviews written by the decedent because a letter written to the decedent from the publishing entity constituted an agreement that the reviews were works for hire. “⁠The parties agree that the letter on its face is a contract and that [the decedent] signed the agreement in the space provided. . . . [N]either side ever addressed what the Court would characterize as the ‘elephant in the room,’ the parol evidence rule. The 2004 letter agreement purports to memorialize in writing a preexisting oral contract, evidently dating back to when [the decedent] started writing for [the publication] in 1958. On its face, it is unambiguous. Both parties agree that since he started writing for the journal, ‘all articles [he has] written for [the publication] have been “works made for hire,” as that term is defined under the US Copyright laws.’ By signing the letter, and checking the line ‘agreed,’ [the decedent] assented to that understanding. Therefore, on its face, the letter contains all the terms necessary for a contract: offer, acceptance, consideration, mutual assent, and an intent to be bound. . . . Viewing the Letter as a contract, and having found that its terms are unambiguous, [plaintiff’s] submission of extrinsic evidence regarding the Letter is admissible only if it is permitted under the parol evidence rule. . . . The 2004 letter sets out the agreement clearly and . . . uses the term of art in the Copyright Act: ‘work[s] made for hire.’ Moreover, [plaintiff] has failed to come forward with case law that supports its arguments that the 44 articles at issue first published in 1999 were not, as a matter of law, works for hire solely because the agreement purportedly memorialized a preexisting understanding going back 46 years.”

The Estate of Stanley Kauffmann v. Rochester Institute of Technology, 6-17-cv-06061 (NYWD 2018-08-06, Order) (Charles J. Siragusa)

2018-08-08T12:21:03+00:00August 8th, 2018|Copyright, Docket Report|