Court Finds Artist Granted Implied License When Submitting Drawings to Design Firms

Author: Brian R. Westley

An artist who created drawings of new home plans for design firms granted the firms an implied license to distribute those copyrighted works to others—even though the artist’s invoices stated the drawings could not be distributed without his permission, a federal court has ruled.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama stated that it “defies logic” that the design firms Red Door Homes and SMA Operations Management would pay artist Keith Karlson for his drawings if all the design firms could do was make copies and not actually share them with clients. Karlson v. Red Door Homes LLC, No. 11-cv-1511,2014 WL 1765186 (N.D. Ala. April 30, 2014).

The court instead determined the artist granted the design firms an implied license to use his drawings in furtherance of their business. The court explained that an implied license is created when (1) a licensee requests the creation of a work; (2) the licensor makes the work and delivers it to the licensee; and (3) the licensor intends that the licensee copy and distribute his work. Because the parties did not dispute the first two elements, the sole issue was whether the artist intended that the design firms use and distribute his work. Looking at the objective evidence, the court determined that since the artist knew the design firms were going to display his drawings to their customers to encourage the purchase of new homes, it was reasonable to infer that the artist intended for the firms to distribute his drawings. The court granted summary judgment for the design firms, ruling that because the firms paid for the drawings the artist could not unilaterally revoke the implied license.

The court explained that the artist’s invoices were not part of the contract between the parties because they were sent to the design firms after the fact. The court added that the artist offered no evidence that the design firms actually agreed to be bound by the language in the invoices.

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