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Friday, 9 January 2009

No copyright for prisoner

The IPKat was intrigued to read on Wired about a US employee's copyright case with a difference.

James Walton prepared a number of calendars in the course of his employment. One of these he copyrighted in 2001. He subsequently sued his 'employer' after the 'employer' sold them to the US Government's General Services Agency, which distributed them to a number of federal agencies.

The difference is that Mr Walton is a convicted bank robber, and the 'employer' in question was Federal Prison Industries Inc., which employs prisoners in the federal penitentiary where Mr Walton is serving a 17 year sentence.

US copyright law prevents the enforcement of copyright against the US Government by those who created works in "employment or service" of the United States. The court found that it did not need to decide whether Walton was an 'employee' of the US because it was clear that, while in prison, he was acting in the 'service' of the US.

Service had to be defined differently from employment (though the two terms are related). According to the court:

Working for someone and under his direction may constitute being in that person’s “service” even though the relationship does not amount to the typical common-law master-servant relationship that the term “employment” ordinarily describes. Walton’s preparation of the calendar was done “while in the service of the United States.” He developed and made the calendar at the direction of and with computers provided by the United States, and was supervised by United States employees in that work. He performed the work at a government facility, and the government paid him modest compensation for his efforts.

The IPKat reckons that this is a common-sense decision, but one that arguably stretches the words of the legislation. He wonders though if it wouldn't have been easier to treat Walton as an employee. After all, he was doing a job and being paid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Wired article did not say that Mr. Walton would not be the copyright owner, so that his ownership of the copyright is uncontested. The decision - as reported by Wired - only says that the US Government cannot be sued for copyright infringement. So, the title of this blog is not entirely correct.

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