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Copyright Blog

Teacher's Copyright Suit Continues

Amended complaint has been filed and answered

The conflict continues in a case that has now lasted more than two years and on which we have reported on three other occasions (July 2019, November 2019, and May 2020). The dispute has pitted teacher Linda Woodson ("Woodson") against Principal James Knox ("Knox"), the Atlantic City Board of Education (the "Board"), and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (the "Association").

Woodson alleges that she prepared a report, outside the scope of her employment but at Knox's request, for the purpose of entering their elementary school in an award contest (the "Report"). Woodson alleges that she found out much later that Knox had taken her report without permission and incorporated it into an article of his own. Knox published the purportedly infringing article in 2011 without giving Woodson credit.

After concerns were raised about the sufficiency of Woodson's complaint, the possibility of the Report being a work for hire, and the possibility of the statute of limitations having run for the alleged infringement, Woodson sought to amend her complaint. The court filed an Opinion on December 18, 2020 indicating that Woodson had introduced sufficient evidence to create a triable question of whether the Report was a work for hire and that the the continuing status of the case would depend on whether or not the statute of limitations should be tolled to 2018, when Woodson actually discovered the use of the Report. The court indicated that there was sufficient probability that an amendment of Woodson's complaint would not be futile and accordingly filed an Order granting Woodson's Second Motion to Amend. Woodson subsequently filed her Second Amended Complaint.

The amended complaint alleges that Woodson did not know, and should not have known, about the infringement of the Report until 2018, when she noticed information about the Report's publication when running a search for James Knox on Google. According to Woodson, the article was published in a journal directed at school principals, to which she does not subscribe, since she is not a school principal. Woodson admitted that Knox technically made the article available to her (and other school faculty) in a 2011 email, but there was nothing in the subject line, email body, or attachment title of the email to indicate the significance of the attachment or its connection to Woodson. Woodson claims that she necessarily must be selective about which email attachments she opens and reads and that she had no reason to pay special attention to this specific email.

Separate Answers to the complaint were filed by the Board and the Association. Both the Board and the Association denied many, if not most, of the allegations made in Woodson's complaint. Both parties have also asserted numerous defenses including, failure to state a claim, lack of damages or harm, passage of the statute of limitations, waiver, laches, unclean hands, and fair use.

We will provide updates on this case as they become available.