DECISION AND ORDER
SMITH, District Judge.
Presently before the Court is Defendant Brown University's ("Brown") Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to all counts contained in the original Complaint
I. Factual Background
For over twenty years, and while in the employ of Brown, Plaintiff John Forasté ("Plaintiff or "Forasté) produced thousands of photographs whose subjects spanned a panoramic range—from portrayals of academic life at Brown to renderings of the campus' natural beauty. This action concerns the ownership of those images. The following facts are undisputed by the parties. Foraste was employed by Brown as a full-time professional photographer from February 1975 until September 1998. Defendant Laura Freid oversaw Forasté's department as of 1996. Forasté was paid an annual salary and received employment and retirement benefits, but was never paid a commission for his work at Brown. Forasté never signed an employment contract with Brown, nor was he a member of Brown's faculty. Plaintiff claims, and Defendants do not dispute, however, that he was a member of Brown's staff.
Throughout the years of his employment, Brown provided Forasté with a photographer's assistant, student assistants and a darkroom on campus. Forasté used his own photographic equipment in the first two years of his employment, but in 1977 or 1978 Brown purchased photographic equipment for him, which he used almost exclusively in his work thereafter. Forasté received his assignments on an ad hoc basis from Brown personnel (such as editors or art designers) but would also take pictures that captured the feel of campus life or the beauty of the campus on his own initiative.
In February 1983, Forasté helped to draft a "Position Content Document" ("PCD"), that summarized his job responsibilities. Defendants' Rule 12.1 Statement, ¶ 12. The job functions, as described in this document, included producing, consulting on, coordinating and scheduling all photography for Forasté's department and others; and creating an image for the Brown community and the general public—"glimpses of the kind of place Brown is"—to be used in Brown publications and by various Brown departments. See Plaintiffs Memorandum in Support of Objection to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiffs Memorandum"), p. 2 (citing PCD).
The parties are in agreement that in 1986, Brown adopted
Forasté readily acknowledges that he was oblivious of Brown's copyright policy until September 1998, after his employment with the University came to an end as a result of a staff cutback. There is no written instrument signed by Forasté or Brown representing an agreement of ownership in any of the images that Forasté created. Forasté alleges that his onetime supervisor, Robert Reichley, orally represented to him in the late 1970s or early 1980s that he would always "have access" to his work for Brown. Forasté concedes, however, that this conversation did not regard the ownership of his work.
II. Procedural Posture
The initial Complaint set forth facts tending to support Plaintiffs original theory of the case: namely, that Forasté was, and had always been, the owner of the images by virtue of the Policy. The causes of action pled in the initial Complaint flowed from this theory: Count I for copyright infringement; Count II for common law conversion; and Count III for "unfair and deceptive trade practice and unfair competition." Defendants moved for summary judgment on all Counts, asserting defenses predicated on the facts and claims as pled.
At oral argument on Brown's Motion for Summary Judgment on January 6, 2003, it became clear that Forasté's theory of the case had changed. Plaintiff now asserts, as an alternate theory, that Brown first owned the images, but then transferred or assigned ownership to him via the Policy and pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §§ 201(d) and 204(a).
On January 13, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint, attaching his proposed Amended Complaint thereto. Brown filed a timely objection to this motion. This Court granted the motion on January 16, 2003.
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, the Court will treat Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as one for partial summary judgment, as it applies to the corresponding counts of the Amended Complaint.
Defendants have moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), which provides for dismissal of an action if the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action.
It is beyond cavil that "[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and thus must take pains to act only within the margins of that jurisdiction." Cumberland Farms, Inc. v. Me. Tax Assessor, 116 F.3d 943, 945 (1st Cir.1997). "Hence, the preferred—and often the obligatory—practice is that a court, when confronted with a colorable challenge to its subject-matter jurisdiction, should resolve that question before weighing the merits of a pending action." Morales Feliciano v. Rullan, 303 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir.2002); Donahue v. City of Boston, 304 F.3d 110, 117 (1st Cir.2002) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 101-02, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998)).
Defendants contend that Forasté lacks standing to bring a copyright infringement action because he has not registered a copyright in the images as to which he claims a copyright interest. At the time this action was filed, Plaintiff had not registered
17 U.S.C. § 411(a) provides that "no action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title."
Plaintiff points to 17 U.S.C. § 408(a) which states: "[Registration is not a condition of copyright protection," and relies on Olan Mills, Inc. v. Linn Photo Co., 23 F.3d 1345 (8th Cir.1994) for the proposition that injunctive, rather than legal, relief is available notwithstanding the absence of a valid registration. In Olan Mills, the plaintiff, a photo studio, discovered that the defendant was engaged in unauthorized copying of photographs to which Olan Mills held a copyright. Id. at 1347. Olan Mills then took a number of additional photographs, registering copyright in some of these, in order to determine if defendant would continue its allegedly illegal copying activities with the new photographs as well. When defendant persisted, plaintiff filed suit in federal court seeking legal and equitable relief. The defendant argued that Olan Mills had not presented a "live controversy" because some of the photographs for which it sought protection had not yet been registered. The Eighth Circuit disagreed, stating:
Id. at 1349 (citations omitted).
Defendants counter, in their Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, that two recent federal district court decisions have required a putative plaintiff in a copyright infringement action to obtain and present a certificate of registration from the Copyright Office before permitting an action to proceed. See Defendants' Memorandum in Support of their Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint, p. 3 (citing Strategy Source, Inc. v. Lee, 233 F.Sup.2d 1 (D.D.C.2002); Brush Creek Media, Inc. v. Boujaklian, No. C-02-3491EDL., 2002 WL 1906620 (N.D.Cal. Aug.19, 2002)).
Defendants readily acknowledge, however, that there is a considerable division of authority regarding a plaintiffs obligation
17 U.S.C. § 410(d) states:
See 17 U.S.C. § 410(d) (emphasis supplied). The plain language of this statutory provision suggests that the registration occurs on the day the Copyright Office receives all of the necessary application materials (application, deposit, and fee).
It is also clear that a failure to register is certainly not fatal to the Plaintiffs alleged substantive interest in the copyright of the images. See, e.g., M.G.B. Homes, Inc. v. Ameron Homes, Inc., 903 F.2d 1486, 1488 (11th Cir.1990) (filing of action prior to registration does not vitiate claim for equitable relief); SportsMEDIA Tech. Corp. v. Upchurch, 839 F.Sup. 8, 9 (D.Del.1993) (district court has subject matter jurisdiction over copyright action when copyright applicant submits application one day prior to filing suit for infringement); Infodek, Inc. v. Meredith-Webb Printing Co., Inc., 830 F.Sup. 614, 620 n. 6 (N.D.Ga.1993) (copyright interest not dependent on registration).
Moreover, it would be wholly inequitable to require that Forasté, prior to proceeding with this action, register a copyright in images to which Brown presently denies him access. This Court agrees with the approach of the Eighth Circuit in Olan Mills, and finds that the allegations of copyright registration in the Amended Complaint are sufficient to give Forasté standing and to confer subject matter jurisdiction on this Court. While this Court has jurisdiction, however, as in Olan Mills, Plaintiff may only seek equitable relief (not damages) until such time as the images are fully registered. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint must be denied. Having concluded that Forasté has standing to pursue his claims, this Court will address Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
1. Standard of Review
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) states that a party shall be entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When determining a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 820 (1st Cir.1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 985, 112 S.Ct. 2965, 119 L.Ed.2d 586 (1992); Griggs-Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir.1990); see Goldman v. First Nat'l Bank of Boston, 985 F.2d 1113, 1116 (1st Cir.1993); Lawrence v. Northrop Corp., 980 F.2d 66, 68 (1st Cir.1992).
Summary judgment is a procedure that involves shifting burdens between the moving and the nonmoving parties. Initially, the burden requires the moving party to aver "an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 48 (1st Cir.1990) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). Once the moving party meets this burden, the onus
To oppose the motion successfully, the nonmoving party "may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Moreover, the evidence presented by the nonmoving party "`cannot be conjectural or problematic; it must have substance in the sense that it limns differing versions of the truth which a factfinder must resolve at an ensuing trial.'" Mesnick, 950 F.2d at 822 (citing Mack v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 871 F.2d 179, 181 (1st Cir.1989)). Indeed, "[e]ven in cases where elusive concepts such as motive or intent are at issue, summary judgment may be appropriate if the nonmoving party rests merely upon conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation." Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir.1990). In order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must establish a trial-worthy issue by presenting "enough competent evidence to enable a finding favorable to the nonmoving party." Goldman, 985 F.2d at 1116 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505).
2. The Work Made for Hire Doctrine
There are virtually no material factual disputes regarding how Forasté performed his work while employed at Brown. He was clearly a Brown employee, not an independent contractor. Brown contends that Forasté has no copyright interest in the photographs he took while employed with the University because such works are covered by the "work made for hire" doctrine. This doctrine is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 201(b):
The Seventh Circuit has stated succinctly the test to determine whether a work is made for hire:
Baltimore Orioles, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Assn., 805 F.2d 663, 667 (7th Cir.1986).
As an initial matter, Defendants divide the period in which Plaintiff produced photographs into two groups (1) the time prior to January 1, 1978 (the effective
a. Photographs Pre-1978
The 1909 Act contains its own work made for hire provision: in order to find that the pre-1978 images were "works made for hire" within the meaning of the 1909 Act, the court must find (1) that the work in question was made by the employee in the scope of his employment, and (2) that there is no other agreement to the contrary, express or implied. See Playboy Enters., 53 F.3d at 554-55.
Forasté has not pointed to any evidence that, during the period of 1976 through 1977, his photographs were produced outside the scope of his employ for purposes of the work made for hire doctrine. Furthermore, Plaintiff has not pointed to any contrary express or implied agreement in 1976 or 1977 which would negate the application of the 1909 Act's work made for hire doctrine.
b. Photographs Post-1978
The 1976 Act's work made for hire provision is more restrictive than that of its predecessor, in that it requires an express, written agreement signed by both parties to overcome the work made for hire presumption of employer ownership. See 17 U.S.C. § 201(b).
The crux of Plaintiffs argument is that the Policy adopted by Brown, as expressed in the various Faculty Rules and Regulations Handbooks, constitutes an express, written agreement
The First Circuit, not surprisingly, has interpreted this statutory language to mean precisely what it says. See, e.g., The Saenger Org., Inc. v. Nationwide Ins. Licensing Assoc., Inc., 119 F.3d 55, 63 (1st Cir.1997) (court emphasized and enforced the requirement of a written, as opposed to oral, agreement in order to circumvent the work made for hire doctrine). Other courts have held the same. See, e.g., Manning v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 505 (Parkland College), 109 F.Sup.2d 976, 980 (C.D.IU.2000).
In 17 U.S.C. § 201(b), Congress unambiguously set forth the requirement that in order to overcome the work for hire presumption there must be a clearly expressed written agreement, signed by the parties, stating as much. This Court finds that the work made for hire doctrine applies to the images in the absence of an express agreement to the contrary that is signed by both Foraste and Brown. The Policy is patently inadequate to overcome the presumption of Brown's ownership under the work made for hire doctrine. Therefore Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment for copyright infringement (regarding both the pre-1978 and post-1978 photographs) contained in Count I of the Amended Complaint must be granted.
3. Claim for "Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices and Unfair Competition"
Plaintiff fails to specify the basis in law for his claim of "unfair and deceptive trade practices and unfair competition." In fact, Rhode Island recognizes two separate causes of action: a statutory cause of action for deceptive trade practices under R.I. Gen. Laws § 6-13.1-5.2(a) (the "Deceptive Trade Practices Act"), and a common law cause of action for unfair competition. See ERI Max Entertainment, Inc. v. Streisand, 690 A.2d 1351, 1354 (R.I.1997). Under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, "[a]ny person who purchases or leases goods or services primarily for personal, family, or household purposes" may bring an action. Id. (citing § 6-13.1-5.2(a)). Plaintiff plainly has no viable claim under this statute. On the other hand, "a finding of unfair competition must be predicated upon conduct on the part of the respondent that reasonably tended to confuse and mislead the general public into purchasing his product when the actual intent of the purchaser was to buy the product of the complainant." Id. at 1353-54 (citing George v. George F. Berkander, Inc., 92 R.I. 426, 429, 169 A.2d 370, 371 (1961)). Obviously Plaintiff has made no such allegations here.
Based upon the foregoing analysis, the Court orders as follows:
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Even leaving aside the metaphysical debate over the time of a registration's "conception," the Ryan and Brush Creek Media reading of the statute is not congruous with the statutory provision permitting a plaintiff to sue for copyright infringement if his application for registration has been rejected by the Copyright Office:
17 U.S.C. § 411(a). This provision confirms that it is the submission of an application, deposit, and fee (rather than the issuance vel non of a registration certificate) that triggers registration for purposes of conferring standing to sue. But see Brush Creek Media, 2002 WL 1906620, at *4 (reading § 411(a) to condition the ability to sue on the issuance or denial of a registration certificate).
Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 750-52, 109 S.Ct. 2166, 104 L.Ed.2d 811 (1989).