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Avtec Sys. v. Peiffer - 21 F.3d 568 (4th Cir. 1994)

Rule:

A servant's conduct is within the scope of employment only if: (a) it is of the kind he or she is employed to perform; (b) it occurs substantially within the authorized time and space limits; and (c) it is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the master.

Facts:

Avtec Systems, Inc. (Avtec) markets space-related computer services and products to the federal government. Its services include computerized simulations of satellite orbital patterns. Jeffrey G. Peiffer began working part-time for Avtec while in college and became the company's fifth full-time employee upon his graduation in 1984. During his career with Avtec, his job description included "implementing computer simulation" and, specifically, simulating "satellite orbits." At issue was the copyright to a software program and whether the program was created in the former employee's scope of employment. The trial court held that the former employee owned the copyright because the software program was not created within his scope of employment as required by 17 U.S.C.S. § 201(b) for the copyright to vest in plaintiff. However, it also held that plaintiff had a trade secret in the program's use, similar to "shop rights" from an employee's patented invention and that defendants misappropriated that trade secret. On appeal, the court held that plaintiff failed to show it owned a valid copyright and that defendants encroached upon the exclusive rights the copyright conferred, including control of reproduction and distribution, among others.

Issue:

Did the trial court properly rule on the issue of whether the original program was created within the scope of former employee's employment?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court held that although work performed at home, off-hours by an employee, did not vest exclusive authorship rights in the employee, plaintiff still had to show that the former employee was "appreciably" motivated by a desire to further its corporate goals to satisfy the work-for-hire test. The court determined that remand was necessary due to the trial court's misapprehension of the legal principles involved.

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