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Copyright Blog

Copyrighting the Idea of a Vocational School?

Consulting firm sues charter school, alleging that school infringed on its ideas for creating a vocational training program

On May 14, 2021, Garner Group International, LLC; James A. Garner; Dr. Sally Thompson; and Dr. Ervin V. Griffin, Sr. (collectively the "Garner Group" or "Garner") filed suit against the Academy Charter School (the "Academy"), alleging copyright infringement.

The Garner Group is a consulting business, and, according to its Complaint, it approached the Academy about designing a vocational training program through which Academy students could earn college credit. Garner asserts that when the Academy consented, the Garner Group went on to develop and present a set of ideas explaining how the Academy might go about establishing the program to be implemented at its high school.

The complaint alleges that instead of moving forward in partnership with the Garner Group, the Academy went on to put together its own vocational training program plan and to announce this plan to the public. Garner purports that the ideas embodied in the Academy's plan infringe on the ideas embodied in its own presentation on how to create a vocational training program. These ideas, which the Garner Group considers original and innovative, include the types of training that might be offered, the number of hours that would be spent in training, ways the program might be administered, and similar thoughts.

The Garner Group presented its plan for the vocational training program in two slideshows (here and here), each of which is registered with the Copyright Office (registrations here and here), along with a separate prospectus. According to the complaint, "[a]mong the exclusive rights granted...under the Copyright Act are the exclusive rights to implement and use the Vocational Educational Extension Program." The Garner Group alleges that, "without permission or consent..." the Academy "has used the 'A Vocational Education Extension Program' substantially to create a vocational high school program within..." the Academy, and thereby infringed the Garner Group's copyright in the program.

The Garner Group seeks statutory and actual damages along with attorneys' fees and any other relief that the court might see fit to grant. The Academy has not yet filed a Reply to the Complaint, so it remains to be seen how it will respond to the Garner Group's claims. We will provide updates as they become available.