Copyrights: Joint Work? Derivative Work? or Both?
In a recent copyright infringement case, (Greene v. Ablon), the court affirmed the jury’s $19,000 award to the plaintiff, even though the trial court initially made an error in analyzing the plaintiff’s claim. The trial court’s determination that a work cannot be both joint and derivative as a matter of law is false.
A Joint Work is a work prepared by two or more authors to merge their attributions into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole. Alternatively, a Derivative Work is a work based upon one or more preexisting works. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “Derivative Work.”
Ross W. Greene (plaintiff), who specialized in treating children with explosive behavior, wrote a book called “The Explosive Child” and co-authored a book with Dr. J. Stuart Ablon called “Treating Explosive Kids.” After a falling out with Ablon, Greene sued for copyright infringement claiming Ablon used PowerPoint slides that infringed on his solo work “The Explosive Child.” The District Court initially limited the scope of Greene’s copyright infringement claims by determining that the co-authored book “Treating Explosive Kids” was a joint work and not a derivative work. Greene appealed that ruling, arguing that the court improperly circumscribed the evidence he was allowed to present at trial.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Greene, determining that the trial court erred in their determination that a work cannot be both joint and derivative; however, Greene failed to provide any evidence to show that the error improperly circumscribed his claim. Had Greene produced evidence that “Treating Explosive Kids” was a derivative work of “The Explosive Child,” and that Ablon used expressions that were in “The Explosive Child,”–not verbatim in “Treating Explosive Kids”–the verdict could have been overturned.
Federal law offers remedies to persons with copyright infringement claims. Please contact The Jacobs Law if you are facing this type of situation.