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Copyright ownership questioned

MGB Homes Inc. alleged Ameron Homes, a competitor, copied the floor plan of MGB's "Islander II" home from a copyrighted advertising flier. The evidence showed Ameron built a home for Mr. and Mrs. Mark Stern based on MGB's floor plan contained in the brochure. But Ameron Homes argued that although the plans were virtually similar, MGB Homes had no protected right in the floor plans because the brochure was prepared by an independent contractor who, rather than MGB, held copyright.

At the trial, the evidence showed MGB hired Unlimited Drafting Services to prepare the brochure. Ameron argued Unlimited, rather than MGB, therefore, held the copyright to the plans.

Is Ameron Homes liable to MGB Homes for copyright infringement by copying MGB's floor plan? The judge said no.

Where an independent contractor, such as Unlimited Drafting Services prepares a brochure, the independent contractor holds the copyright to its contents, the judge explained. MGB was not a co-author, so Unlimited was copyright owner.

Because there is no evidence MGB or Unlimited intended Unlimited to be an employee, the floor plan drawing copyright in the brochure belongs to Unlimited, the judge ruled. (1990 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in MGB Homes Inc. vs. Ameron Homes, Inc., 903 Fed.2d 1486.)