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Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Dumas

53 F.3d 549 (1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1010

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Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Dumas

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

53 F.3d 549 (1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1010

Facts

Patrick Nagel was a freelance artist who from 1974 until his death in 1984 produced about 285 pieces of artwork that were published by Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (plaintiff) in Playboy magazine. Playboy compensated Nagel for each work published by check. Each check was stamped with the following legend: “By endorsement of this check, payee acknowledges payment in full for the assignment to Playboy Enterprises, Inc. of all right, title, and interest in and to the following items: [description of the artwork].” Each check was endorsed and deposited by Nagel himself or an authorized representative. Playboy retained each piece of artwork produced by Nagel until 1977, when it adopted a new rule of returning works to its contributing artists. Each piece of work returned to Nagel was stamped with the following: “Playboy’s artwork; reproduction prohibited without Playboy’s permission.” Nagel’s widow, Jennifer Dumas (defendant), obtained the copyrights to Nagel’s work upon his death. When both Playboy and Dumas sought to further exploit the Nagel works that had previously been published in Playboy magazine, Playboy brought suit seeking a declaratory judgment that it was the sole owner of all copyrights therein. The district court held that Nagel had transferred only one-time reproduction rights to Playboy and that any further exploitation by Playboy infringed copyrights owned by Dumas. Playboy appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Oakes, J.)

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