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Cmty. for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid - 490 U.S. 730, 109 S. Ct. 2166 (1989)


Section 101 of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C.S. § 101, provides that a work is "for hire" under two sets of circumstances: (1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

In determining whether a hired party is an employee under the general common law of agency, courts consider the hiring party's right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished. Among the other factors relevant to this inquiry are the skill required; the source of the instrumentalities and tools; the location of the work; the duration of the relationship between the parties; whether the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party; the extent of the hired party's discretion over when and how long to work; the method of payment; the hired party's role in hiring and paying assistants; whether the work is part of the regular business of the hiring party; whether the hiring party is in business; the provision of employee benefits; and the tax treatment of the hired party. No one of these factors is determinative.


A nonprofit unincorporated association which was dedicated to eliminating homelessness orally commissioned an artist to produce a statue to dramatize the plight of homelessness. After the sculpture was completed and a dispute arose over it, competing copyright registrations for the sculpture were filed by the sculptor and by an association member, in the member's capacity as trustee of the association. The association and the member then filed an action in a United States district court against the sculptor and another person seeking a return of the sculpture and a determination of copyright ownership. The district court, eventually ordering declaratory and injunctive relief, expressed the view that the association was the exclusive owner of the copyright on the sculpture on the ground that the sculptor had been an employee because the association was the motivating force in the sculpture's production. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, expressing the view that the association could not claim ownership on the basis of the work for hire doctrine, where (a) the work was not prepared by an employee because the sculptor was an independent contractor under agency law, and and no written agreement existed between the parties. Nevertheless, it found a remand was necessary to determine whether the sculpture was a joint work by the sculptor and the association. The association appealed. 


Was the sculpture a work for hire under Section 101 of the Copyright Act?




The Supreme Court of the United States found that respondent was an independent contractor and affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. Respondent was not an employee given the facts that he was hired only for one specific task for a limited time, worked in his own studio with his materials, and was a skilled sculptor.  The Court held that a work was a work for hire when either the work was prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or it was included in the list of nine categories of works enumerated in § 101(2). The Court rejected petitioners' arguments that the hiring party's right to control or actual control tests should determine whether the work was for hire. The Court stated that because the statute did not define the terms "employer" or "employee," they had to rely on the conventional master-servant relationship understood by the common law. Upon determination of whether a work was prepared by an employee or by an independent contractor, the appropriate subsection of § 101 could be applied. The Court directed that on remand the district court was to determine whether the parties were joint authors based on preparation of the work with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.

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