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.
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.
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
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.