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Prisoners have a legal right to register their copyrights
with the Library of Congress, according to a recent decision from the Third
Bernard Carter Jerry-El (Jerry), a prisoner in
Pennsylvania, intended to submit his book to the Library of Congress to obtain
copyright privileges. However, the prison librarian confiscated the book
materials, believing Jerry was attempting to improperly use the copyright
In dismissing Jerry's 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 claim, the district court reasoned that
the sole function of a copyright was to enable an author to commercially
exploit his creations. Thus, in the district court's view, Jerry's attempt to
register his story amounted to an attempt to engage in business activities,
which a prisoner has no right to do.
However, in Jerry
v. Beard, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 5861 (3d Cir. Pa. Mar. 22, 2011) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law],
the Third Circuit reversed. Though the prisoner had no right under the
Constitution or federal law to engage in business, such being a function of
copyrights, the Third Circuit deemed the district court's analysis too narrow.
The Third Circuit held:
The Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101, et seq., affords the author of a literary
work limited exclusive control over that work, including the right to prevent
others from commercially exploiting the work. This
right vests the moment the author commits the story to paper. Under § 407 of the Act, a copyright holder may register his work
with the Library of Congress to obtain additional protections against
infringement. It does not appear that exercising this right necessarily
constitutes engaging in a business activity. Taking as true Jerry's
assertion that his story was never returned - and perhaps was destroyed - he
may be able to assert a claim under the Copyright Act against the DOC for
interfering with his ability to protect his copyright through registration with
the Library of Congress.
(citations and footnotes omitted)
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