Nonprofit Law and Work Made for Hire

One of the areas where expectations might be more effectively shaped proactively is when someone in the nonprofit arena authors content. Often, the fact that the nonprofit, not the employee own the resulting copyright in the work eludes the employee’s understanding. This case from last week is such a circumstance.

Kamanou v. Executive Secretary (SDNY Jan. 19, 2012)

Kamanou sued the Executive Secretary of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for copyright infringement claiming that work she had done while an employee of ECOWAS was ‘unlawfully claimed’ as owned by ECOWAS and then sublicensed to the United Nations.

Kamanou, a citizen of Cameroon, with a PhD in Applied Statistics from U.C. Berkeley, is a well-known international expert on poverty statistics. Kamanou acknowledges that the work at issue was created within the time that she was an employee within her official duties, but states that her job description did not specifically call out the particular work. Moreover, Kamanou asserts that the work can not be a work made for hire as she ‘had no choice but to work on it due to her contractual obligations, and as there was no volitional choice that the work could not qualify for a work made for hire.

The court, in dismissing the action, held that the copyright is owned by ECOWAS who was authorized to license the work to the United Nations. The court explained that Kamanou does not own any copyright in the work. “The obligation to complete the work pursuant to an employment contract is precisely what makes the work a ‘work made for hire’.”

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