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Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entm't, Inc. - 402 F.3d 881 (9th Cir. 2005)

Rule:

To be entitled to sue for copyright infringement, the plaintiff must be the legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright.

Facts:

Plaintiff Nancey Silvers wrote the script of a made-for-television movie called "The Other Woman." Although plaintiff had written the script, she did not hold the copyright, because the script was a work-for-hire that plaintiff Silvers completed for another film company, which is the original owner of the copyright. Some three years after "The Other Woman" aired on a broadcast network, defendant Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., released the motion picture "Stepmom." After the release of "Stepmom," the owner of the copyright, while retaining ownership of the copyright, executed an "Assignment of Claims and Causes of Action" in favor of plaintiff Silvers, which assigned to plaintiff "all right, title and interest in and to any claims and causes of action against Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., Columbia TriStar, and any other appropriate persons or entities, with respect to the screenplay 'The Other Woman' . . . and the motion picture 'Stepmom.'" Plaintiff then filed a complaint against defendant Sony for copyright infringement, alleging that the movie "Stepmom" was substantially similar to the script for "The Other Woman." Sony moved to dismiss on the ground that Silvers lacked standing to bring an action for copyright infringement in the absence of some legal or beneficial ownership in the underlying copyright. The United States District Court for the Central District of California denied the 's motionSony's to dismiss plaintiff assignee's copyright infringement action and certified the issue for interlocutory appeal.

Issue:

Does an assignee, who held an accrued claim for copyright infringement but who had no legal or beneficial interest in the copyright itself, have an action for infringement?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court concluded that Sievers, the assignee, could not bring an action for copyright infringement because the bare assignment of an accrued cause of action was impermissible under 17 U.S.C.S. § 501(b). Because that was all that the assignor conveyed, she was not entitled to institute and could not maintain this action against the company for alleged copyright infringement. 17 U.S.C.S. § 501(b) did not say expressly that only a legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right was entitled to sue. However, under traditional principles of statutory interpretation, Congress's explicit listing of who could sue for copyright infringement was to be understood as an exclusion of others from suing for infringement.

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