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Where work is deemed work made for hire, under the Copyright Act such work automatically vests with the employer unless an express, written agreement between the employer and employee exists. 17 U.S.C.S. § 201(b).
Plaintiffs Dr. Gene Rouse (Rouse) and Dr. Doyle Wilson (Wilson), as research professors at Iowa State University of Science and Technology (ISU), began a large research project, researching the ability to use an ultrasound machine to scan cattle in order to determine the quality of the beef on live cattle before the cattle were slaughtered. As the research developed, the professors worked with another university employee who developed software for the project. The university employee programmed the software menu pages with “Iowa State University” on each screen of the program. The software also displayed the following message to users: “This software was developed at Iowa State University and copyrighted by the ISU Research Foundation, Inc.” The software was used by various consulting parties without the plaintiffs’ authorization. Subsequently, plaintiffs brought a copyright infringement action against defendant consulting parties. The defendants filed a counterclaim for, among other things, negligent misrepresentation. The parties each filed motions for partial summary judgment with respect to the claims against them.
The court concluded that the software was work made for hire and therefore, pursuant to 17 U.S.C.S. § 201(b), the university was considered the author for purposes of the Copyright Act. The court went on to hold that, even if it were to conclude otherwise, the professors abandoned any ownership interest they might have had in the copyright. As to the counterclaim for negligent misrepresentation, the court found that the professors were not in the profession or business of supplying information, and thus no duty of care existed. Accordingly, the court granted the consulting parties' motion for partial summary judgment on the copyright infringement claim. The court also granted the research professors' motion for partial summary judgment on the negligent misrepresentation counterclaim.