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Copyright Blog

Fight Over Work for Hire Continues

In July 2019 we reported on a copyright infringement suit brought by Linda Woodson, an elementary school teacher in New Jersey. In her complaint, Woodson alleges she wrote a report about her school, and her school’s principal borrowed heavily from Woodson’s report in an article he wrote for the National Association of Elementary School Principal’s (“NAESP”) periodical entitled “Principal.” Woodson purportedly created the report in 2010.

Motions have been filed by both the Atlantic City Board of Education (“ACBE”) and NAESP asking for the suit to be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant ACBE asserts that the statute of limitations for the infringement claim has run out, because the statute of limitations was 3 years from the time Woodson knew or should have known her work was being infringed. ACBE purports Woodson knew, or should have known through reasonable diligence, that her work was being infringed in 2011. Defendant ACBE also claims that Woodson’s work is subject to the “work for hire” doctrine, going so far as to state that it “shocks the conscience” that Woodson would even allege her work is not a work for hire. Defendant NAESP echoes ACBE’s statute of limitations argument to bar Woodson’s claim.

Woodson filed an opposition to defendants’ motions to dismiss, coupled with a motion to amend her complaint. In the motion, Woodson clarifies that she did not and could not discover the alleged infringement until she learned of it in 2018. Woodson clarifies that NAESP’s periodical was only available to principals, not teachers. Thus Woodson could not have known about the allegedly infringing article; Woodson seeks to amend her complaint to reflect this information. Woodson also argues that her creating the 2010 report was beyond her scope of employment as a teacher at her school, thus her report is not a work made for hire.

Defendants ACBE and NAESP have filed reply briefs to Woodson’s opposition that echo the arguments made in their motions to dismiss.