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Childress v. Taylor - 945 F.2d 500 (2d Cir. 1991)

Rule:

The Copyright Act defines a "joint work" as a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.

Facts:

Defendant Clarice Taylor, a performer on stage, radio, television, and in film for over 40 years, sought review of summary judgment as to plaintiff Alice Childress's copyright and trademark infringement and related state law claims, brought pursuant to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. § 101 et seq., the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. §§ 1051, 1125(a), and N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 368-d (1984), alleging sole ownership of a play written by plaintiff with the collaboration of defendant. Defendant contended that her contributions of research material and ideas entitled her to joint authorship and shared rights in the play.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment to a playwright after determining that a performer had failed to prove the elements of joint authorship?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment, holding that for joint authorship to exist, all participants had to have fully intended so at the outset. As plaintiff never shared defendant's thoughts of co-authorship, and plaintiff rejected defendant's attempts to negotiate a co-authorship agreement, plaintiff was considered the sole author of the play entitled to full rights to the work.

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