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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Vil v. Poteau

District court awards summary judgment to defendant organization and its board against former vice president, finding that plaintiff did not establish genuine issue of material fact as to his copyright claim because he failed to produce copy of allegedly copyrighted work.

Plaintiff Smith Vil is the founder of the nonprofit organization the Foundation for the Technological and Economic Advancement of Mirebalais, Inc. He served as its vice president and a member of its board of directors until 2009, when he was terminated. Vil filed for copyright protection for a learning program called “Learn to Read and Write is a Right” in 2011. He alleged that he created the program in 2007 while working at FATEM. Vil filed suit in district court against FATEM and individual members of FATEM’s board of directors asserting claims for copyright infringement, unfair competition, breach of implied contract, declaratory relief and injunctive relief.

The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, holding that Vil had not demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact as to his copyright infringement claim because he failed to produce the allegedly infringed material. While the court found that Vil’s certificate of registration with the Copyright Office was prima facie evidence of his ownership of a valid copyright, it concluded that, without a copy of the allegedly infringed work, Vil could not establish that defendants copied his work as a factual matter.

Vil alleged that he created the program while serving as a board member of FATEM, but even after extensive discovery, Vil failed to produce a copy of the copyrighted work. The court held that without the copyrighted work, it could not find that the defendants even had access to the material that Vil allegedly copyrighted and sought to protect. In addition, without the materials the court could not engage in a substantial similarity analysis. In the absence of evidence supporting these two elements, the court concluded that Vil had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants actually copied constituent elements of his original work.

The court considered and summarily dismissed Vil’s remaining claims. Noting that Vil’s unfair competition claim under the Lanham Act was duplicative of his copyright claim, and that he’d proffered no additional evidence other than the inadequate evidence he submitted in support of his copyright infringement claim, the court dismissed that claim. In addition, Vil brought a breach of implied contract claim, which the court dismissed on the basis that Vil had not shown that the defendants used his copyrighted work, and therefore did not show that he conferred any measurable benefit on the defendants.

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