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I heard that a work for hire agreement conveys renewal rights to my copyright. Does it?

Posted by attorney Bruce Burdick

NO. One June 11, 2013 the Second Circuit Ct of Appeals in an opinion by Justice Chin reversed a summary judgment for Marvel and held that Enters retained the renewal rights despite a work for hire agreement that purported to assign them to Marvel. The Court cited the strong presumption against conveyance of renewal rights.

Plaintiff sued Marvel, contending that he conceived the comic book character “Ghost Rider," the related characters, and the origin story. Plaintiff also claimed that he owned the renewal term copyrights in those works. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Marvel, holding that plaintiff had assigned any rights he had in the renewal term copyrights to Marvel when he executed a form work-for-hire agreement (the Agreement), six years after the initial publication of the issue in question. The court, by applying the “strong presumption against the conveyance of renewal rights," concluded that the district court erred in holding as a matter of law that plaintiff had assigned his renewal rights to Marvel by signing the Agreement; plaintiff’s claim was not untimely as a matter of law because there were genuine disputes regarding whether plaintiff should have known about Marvel’s repudiation of his claim of ownership; and there were genuine disputes of material fact that precluded granting summary judgment on the issue of authorship. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for trial.

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