Thursday, April 7, 2005
In a learned and closely watched decision, Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, the 9th Circuit has held that a writer who holds "an accrued claim for copyright infringement, but has no legal or beneficial interest in the copyright itself" may not "institute an action for infringement." In Silvers, the plaintiff had written a work for hire, the script for "The Other Woman," which had become a made for television movie. Some three years later Sony Pictures released the Julia Roberts vehicle "Stepmom." The makers of "The Other Woman" turned over some of their rights in "The Other Woman", but not the underlying copyright, to Silvers and she began an action against Sony Pictures. The District Court dismissed the action, and she appealed. A panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed, she requested a rehearing, and the 9th circuit voted to rehear the case (370 F. 3d. 1252 (9th circ. 2004)).
In order to determine whether Silvers had the right to bring the action, the majority engaged in a lengthy examination of the legislative history of the relevant sections of the Copyright Act, as well as the decisions in other circuits. "The Supreme Court has noted "Congress' paramount goal in revising the 1976 Act of enhacing predictability and certainty of copyright ownership."...As we have phrased it, "[c]ongressional intent to have national uniformity in copyright laws is clear."...That admonition makes sense, given the nature of intellectual property. Inconsistent rules among the circuits would lead to different levels of protection in different areas of the country, even if the same alleged infringement is occurring nationwide. The bare assignment of an accrued cause of action is impermissible under 17 U. S. C. [section] 501(b). Because that is all Frank & Bob Films conveyed to Silvers, Silvers was not entitled to institute and may not maintain this action against Sony for alleged infringement of the copyright in "The Other Woman."
Read the entire decision here.