This is what I wrote when I blogged the district court decision last year:

Unusual fact pattern. Plaintiff finds unclaimed property. He organized individuals to bring a class action to sue a bank. Plaintiff (not a lawyer) hired defendant as lawyer for the class action. Defendant and plaintiff have a falling out and defendant ‘takes’ the case members with him. When the lawyer filed an amended complaint, the jilted plaintiff sued defendant for copyright infringement, arguing that he owns the copyright in the original complaint (because he had (allegedly) done all the drafting).

Held: The Court declines to decide whether copyright can reside in a legal complaint (which is of more than passing interest to me as a law blogger). However, even if plaintiff is the true author of the complaint, by paying the lawyer to represent the class, he granted an irrevocable license to use the complaint, and create derivative works (amended complaints) if necessary.

On appeal, the Second Circuit underlined and drew exclamation marks after the word ‘irrevocable’ when affirming the District Court’s holding and noted:

“Litigation cannot be conducted successfully unless the parties to the litigation and their attorneys are free to use documents that are a part of the litigation . . . A court’s ability to perform its function depends on the ability of the parties (and their attorneys) to put before it copies of all documents in contention and to serve one another with copies of such documents. The courts could not thoroughly and fairly adjudicate a matter if suddenly in the midst of litigation the parties lost the right to give the court copies of documents already used in the litigation that support their arguments.”

ucps gelb v kaplan copyright
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