Law School Case Brief
Estate of Kauffmann v. Rochester Inst. of Tech. - No. 17-CV-6061-CJS-MWP, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131825 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 6, 2018)
Absent fraud or mutual mistake, where the parties have reduced their agreement to an integrated writing, the parol evidence rule operates to exclude evidence of all prior or contemporaneous negotiations between the parties offered to contradict or modify the terms of their writing.
Plaintiff Stanley Kauffmann (Kauffmann) was an author of numerous movie reviews primarily for The New Republic, an independent journal of opinion promoting “novel solutions to the challenges of the present time.” It was found that 141 of the reviews in The New Republic were republished in a book authored by third party defendant Robert J. Cardullo (Cardullo) and published by an entity belonging to defendant Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). The Estate of Stanley Kauffmann (the Estate) claimed that 44 of those reviews violated Kauffmann's copyright in them. RIT claimed that Kauffmann did not own the copyright to those works in Cardullo's book, since he and The New Republic agreed in 2004 that all the reviews Kauffman wrote for the journal were a "work made for hire" as defined in the Copyright Act of 1976. 17 U.S.C. § 101. Plaintiff and defendant filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
By republishing Kauffman’s reviews in a book, did defendant violate Kauffman’s copyright in them?
Under The Copyright Act of 1976, a “work made for hire” was “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work..., if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.” The Copyright Act further stated that “in the case of a work made for hire, the employer owned all of the rights comprised in the copyright.” In the case at bar, the Court noted that the letter between plaintiff and The New Republic stated that the articles written by the former for the latter were “works made for hire,” as that term was defined under the US Copyright laws. The Court further noted that the letter on its face was a contract and that Kauffman signed the agreement in the space provided. Therefore, the Court averred that the letter contained 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 were unambiguous, the Court held that the Estate's submission of extrinsic evidence regarding the Letter was admissible only if it was permitted under the parol evidence rule. The parol evidence rule operated to exclude evidence of all prior or contemporaneous negotiations between the parties offered to contradict or modify the terms of their writing. As such, the Court granted RIT’s motion for summary judgment.
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