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Implied Copyright License: A Life-and-Death Example

Seal of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which decided an implied copyright license caseSeveral months ago, I wrote about the circumstances under which courts will find an implied copyright license if there has not been an assignment of copyright. (If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will) In a recent case (Estate of Hevia v. Portrio Corp.), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that there was an implied copyright license in a partnership context.

The decedent, Roberto Hevia-Acosta, was an architect. Following his death, his estate and heirs waged an intensive legal battle against his business partner over copyrights in the decedent’s architectural designs.

Looking primarily at the decedent’s intent, the court found that, as a matter of law, there was an implied copyright license in favor of the business partner because:

  • The very reason for creating the architectural designs was successful completion of the partnership’s project.
  • Before his death, the decedent delivered the plans to his partner.
  • He also provided his plans to the project engineer for incorporation into detailed blueprints, which then were submitted to the appropriate governmental entity.

Lesson: The court achieved a just result. However, a huge amount of time, money and effort could have been saved if the partners had entered into a proprietary rights agreement that included a copyright assignment from each partner to the partnership.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com

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