Act Of Uploading Photos To Web Site Is Sufficient to Assign Copyrights

website is down

website is down (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

In today’s business world, web sites are no longer simply a static online presence. Today’s web sites are highly interactive and often make use of content (photos, text, images, videos, etc.) that have bee uploaded by visitors and registered users. With the speed of search engines, social networking platforms and mobile computing technologies, any online problem can quickly have far reaching effects well beyond the initial issue.

In order to ensure that web site operators may make as broad a use of this content as possible and that these web sites do not violate the rights of those whose content has been uploaded, many web site have Terms of Use that contain intellectual property licenses, assignments and indemnifications.

A recent federal District Court in Maryland examined whether the mere act of uploading photographs to a website met the requirements of forming a valid electronic contract sufficient to assign copyrights in the photographs under Section 204(a) of the Copyright Act, which requires assignments to be in writing and signed by the assignor.

In Metro. Reg’l Info. Sys., Inc. v. Am. Home Realty Network, Inc., No. 12-cv-00954 (D. Md. Nov. 13, 2012) the defendant argued plaintiff could not state a claim for infringement on the photographs because the assignments of these photographs to plaintiff were void. Defendant argued that the web site Terms of Use Agreement (“TOU”) and the electronic process in which subscribers assigned copyrights in the photographs to plaintiff did not comply with Section 204(a) of the Copyright Act. The Court disagreed.

The Court first looked at Section 204(a). That section provides that “[a] transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.” 17 U.S.C. § 204(a). The Court then turned to the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (“E-SIGN”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 7001 et seq., to reject defendant’s argument that the assignments were invalid. E-SIGN provides, in relevant part:

“[n]otwithstanding any statute, regulation, or other rule of law . . . with respect to any transaction in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce–
(1) a signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form; and

(2) a contract relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.

15 U.S.C. § 7001(a).

“The term ‘electronic signature’ means an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” Id. § 7006(5). The Court concluded that the  TOU was clear in its terms and that the electronic process by which  subscribers assigned the copyrights in the photographs met E-SIGN and Section 204(a) requirements. Accordingly, the Court held that the assignments were not invalid as a matter of law.

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One thought on “Act Of Uploading Photos To Web Site Is Sufficient to Assign Copyrights

  1. David says:

    I understand your frustration. To put it mildly, there is definitely a split among courts as to how enforceable “browse wrap” licenses are.

    Like

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