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Volunteer Created Work: Who Owns It? Copyright

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by mikeWizowsky, Sep 7, 2019.

  1. mikeWizowsky

    mikeWizowsky Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
    Louisiana
    A volunteer creates many works for a nonprofit, without signing anything or giving ownership of the works to the nonprofit. The work is used, but after about a year, the volunteer resigns and, a month after the resignation, demands the nonprofit cease and desist all use of his/her intellectual property. This includes the logo, website, photos, documents, videos and artwork. Must the nonprofit comply with the former volunteer's demand?

    Because the volunteer was not an employee, the copyright laws don't apply and copyright falls, by default, to the volunteer, however, if the nonprofit has been using the material for some time, does that constitute a gift to the nonprofit, in some way?
     
  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Same answer you got on the other site.
     
    mikeWizowsky likes this.
  3. mikeWizowsky

    mikeWizowsky Law Topic Starter New Member

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    The answer was...

    Copyright laws still do apply. The question is who owns the copyright in the works. Because a true volunteer is not an employee the works would not be works for hire. If they were works for hire the nonprofit would own the copyright. But since the volunteer is not an employee, the only way it could be a work for hire is if the volunteer and the nonprofit agreed in writing that it would be a work for hire. So the next question is whether the volunteer ever transferred to the nonprofit either the copyright or at least a license to use the works and if there was a license, what were the terms of the license, e.g. was it perpetual, was it exclusive, etc. Simply the fact that the nonprofit has been using the works only implies that the volunteer had permitted use while the volunteer was involved with the organization. The organization would need something more if it is to claim it has rights to use the copyright now that the volunteer has demanded that it cease use of the work. It was foolish for the organization not get in writing an agreement transferring the rights to the organization or least securing a perpetual exclusive license to the works before using them. The organization really needs to see a copyright lawyer to find out if there is anything it can do to continue using the works. Perhaps additional information you did not share would make a difference.
    My response is...
    Whenever I said, copyright laws don't apply, I misspoke. I meant the copyright laws that apply to "works made for hire" don't apply, since the volunteer was never contracted, compensated and was never an employee. The volunteer made almost everything for them, from the logo to the website, found out there was some shady business and resigned. Now the volunteer doesn't want their name associated with the nonprofit. Normally, all volunteers sign an NDA, which contains a release of intellectual property, but this volunteer wrote the NDA, so they never signed it.
     
  4. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Where did you get that idea? The statement that "copyright laws don't apply" is absolute nonsense. The entire issue is governed by copyright law -- in particular, section 201, et seq. of the Copyright Act governs ownership.

    That's generally correct, and here's an article that summarizes it pretty well (albeit without citations to authority).

    Unlikely, because a transfer of copyright generally requires a signed writing. More likely, the nonprofit entity would have a non-exclusive license to use the work.
     

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