Brownstein v. Lindsay
Copyright: A plaintiff’s joint authorship claim began to accrue when the plaintiff-author discovered her authorship had been expressly repudiated by a co-author.
Opinion (Greenaway): In 1994, Tina Lindsay (“Lindsay”) worked with Peter Brownstein (“Brownstein”) to turn a marketing analysis system that Lindsay created into a computer program. Brownstein first designed a type of computer program (“ETHN”) that could process the kind of information Lindsay’s marketing system relied on and then combined their ideas to create a new program called the Lindsay Cultural Identification Determinate (“LCID”). In 1996, Lindsay registered the copyrights to the EDS, and included a copy of the ETHN programs. In 2009, Brownstein sought his own copyright of the ETHN programs. Then in 2010, Brownstein brought a suit that asserted he was joint author of LCID, and was owed an accounting of the resulting profits. Lindsay counterclaimed that Brownstein’s copyright in ETHN should be ‘cancelled’. The trial court decided in favor of Lindsay, and explained that because Brownstein had both actual and constructive knowledge that Lindsay claimed to be the sole author of LCID, Brownstein’s action was barred by the statute of limitations and his copyrights were cancelled. The Third Circuit held that Brownstein and Lindsay were indeed joint authors of LCID. The panel explained that Brownstein’s copyright interest vested at creation regardless of registration. The panel then set a new precedent by combining the express repudiation rule with the discovery rule to assess when Brownstein’s joint authorship claim began accruing. The panel held that a joint authorship cause of action will accrue when an author discovers that her authorship has been expressly repudiated by a co-author, and that as a matter of law express repudiation cannot be demonstrated by copyright registration alone. The panel also held that the lower court did not have the authority to cancel a copyright. The lower court’s judgment was REVERSED and the case was REMANDED for a new trial.