Thursday, 18 April 2013

Termination Of Employee Refusing To Perform Copyright Infringement Was Illegal

Intrigued by an item in McDermott Will and Emery's IP update about a case in which the Texas Court of Appeals for the Second District found that an employee was wrongfully terminated from an architecture firm when he refused to engage in behaviour that he believed would expose him to liability for criminal copyright infringement. The case, if you need to know, is Young v. Nortex Foundation Designs, Case No. 02-11-00470 (Tex. App., Feb. 7, 2013). No, I haven't spent time trying to find a link for you, I'm afraid.

The case turns on the distinction between a copy of plans bearing a red stamp on the reverse, and a copy with a black stamp. The red one could be copied, the black one couldn't. Although the home-owner who instructed the architects had a red-stamped version which could have been copied, for some reason that I can't quite understand the architects only had the one with the black stamp (supplemented with dire warnings about the consequences of making copies from it). To make a copy from it would have exceeded the licence that had been granted, so the employee was held - eventually - to have been wrongly terminated when he refused to make the copy. And (subject to the proviso that I am utterly ignorant of Texas law in this respect, though I have now learnt that it is an "employment-at-will" state which sounds as if it might be a bit short of protective legislation) quite right too.

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