A blog about patent, copyright and trademark law in the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of New York

Court Rejects Copyright Infringement Defenses, Grants Summary Judgment to Plaintiff

In an October 25, 2013 ruling, Judge Katherine B. Forrest granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Complex Systems, Inc. on its copyright infringement claims against defendant ABN Ambro Bank N.V. over a software application known as BankTrade 8.0.  Complex Systems holds the copyright registration for BankTrade 8.0, and alleged ABN Ambro's willful infringement arising from its continued use of the software.  ABN Ambro asserted as defenses that it had rights to use BankTrade 8.0 because of its subsidiary's prior licensed use, or joint authorship and ownership.  Judge Forrest had previously rejected ABN Ambro's argument that its subsidiary had assigned the license to BankTrade 8.0 before the subsidiary was divested.

The Court, plainly annoyed with ABN Ambro's shifting positions and theories throughout the litigation, first rejected ABN Ambro's contention that its former subsidiary could belatedly assert some ownership rights in the software, and transfer those rights to ABN Ambro.  Judge Forrest noted that the registration was first filed in 2008, and thus ruled that whether the subsidiary "could have once, long ago, asserted ownership rights to BankTrade 8.0 (by virtue of its position as an 'author' of some code), is now an irrelevant detour:  it did not."  

The Court further rejected on the merits the claim that ABN Ambro's former subsidiary was a joint author or co-owner of BankTrade 8.0.  Quoting the Copyright Act, Judge Forrest wrote that a "joint work of authorship is 'a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into an inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.'"  Judge Forrest then found that, even if the facts established joint authorship, the former subsidiary had failed to timely assert those facts and to assert ownership as a result of that authorship.  The Court, applying a three year statute of limitations, noted that neither ABN Ambro nor its former subsidiary asserted any ownership right in BankTrade 8.0 in the limitations period.  Finally, Judge Forrest rejected ABN Ambro's standing to assert its former subsidiary's ownership rights, even if they existed, ruling that the "law is clear that a party accused of infringement cannot defeat that claim by pointing to rights that another may have to the work in question."

The Court also rejected ABN Ambro's "final redoubt," "its argument that somehow it obtained an express or implied license" to use BankTrade 8.0 from its former subsidiary.  The Court ruled that there "are no facts supporting that [the former subsidiary] had the ability to license ABN -- or that having such ability, it did."

Judge Forrest granted summary judgment on the issue of liability, but noted that the issues of willfulness and damages remained.  Since ABN Ambro conceded continued use of the software, Judge Forrest suggested that the willfulness issue could be decided on motion, and that there might not be any factual dispute as to the amount of damages.  The Court ordered the parties to submit letters to the Court setting out their positions on these issues.
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