Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Section 101 of 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. 17 U.S.C.S. § 101. In Erickson, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has determined that this language requires (1) intent to create a joint work; and (2) contribution of independently copyrightable material. With respect to the first element, the Seventh Circuit explained that the intent prong does not have to do with the collaborators' intent to recognize each other as coauthors for purposes of copyright law; the focus is on the parties' intent to work together in the creation of a single product, not on the legal consequences of that collaboration. "Billing" or "credit' may be evidence of intent to create a joint work. As to the second element, the standard requires: a contribution that is independently copyrightable.
Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau (the Bureau) commissioned a tune singing the county's praises, the distribution of which led to this lawsuit for copyright infringement. Cheryl Janky said she composed the song and never gave the Bureau permission to use it. The Bureau maintained that Janky was only a co-author and that it had the authority to use the song by licensing it from the other songwriter, Henry Farag. The district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of Janky--deciding that she was the sole author--and a jury awarded her $ 100,000 in damages. The Bureau appealed, contending that summary judgment was improper given the evidence of co-authorship. In the alternative, the Bureau submits that the district court erred when it denied a motion for remittitur or new trial in light of Janky's failure to mitigate damages. Janky cross-appealed from an order concerning the imposition of sanctions against her counsel under Rule 11.
Did Janky share the copyright to the song with Farag as a co-author, hence the Bureau had a right to use the song with Farag's permission?
The court held that the song was the product of Janky and Farag. Farag wielded considerable control over what the song finally looked like; one could even say he demanded the changes. More important, however, is the evidence of intent supplied by Janky herself. Janky named Farag a coauthor and deemed the song a "joint work." Janky's post hoc rationalization--that she only intended to express her gratitude--is simply at odds with the significant contributions made by Farag and Janky's identification of Farag as a co-author in the copyright registration form. As for Janky’s cross-appeal, the court did not need to decide the issue because it was mooted by the court's conclusion that the bureau was entitled to summary judgment - there was no verdict from which sanctions could be deducted.