Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid

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Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 29, 1989
Decided June 5, 1989
Full case name Community for Creative Non-Violence, et al. v. James Earl Reid
Citations 490 U.S. 730 (more)
109 S. Ct. 2166; 104 L. Ed. 2d 811; 1989 U.S. LEXIS 2727; 57 U.S.L.W. 4607; 10 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1985; Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P26,425; 16 Media L. Rep. 1769
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The default rule is that the artist who creates a commissioned work retains copyright ownership of the work (because the artist is an independent contractor and not an employee producing a work made for hire.) However, this is only a presumption which can be modified by contract.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Marshall, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
17 U.S.C. § 201; 17 U.S.C. § 101

Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 US 730 (1989) is a US copyright law and labor law case of a United States Supreme Court case regarding ownership of copyright.


The Community for Creative Non-Violence, a homeless charity, paid a sculptor called James Earl Reid for a statue that depicted the plight of homeless people for a Christmas pageant in Washington DC, called "Third World America". CCNV members visited Reid’s Baltimore studio as he made the statue, gave suggestions and directions about its appearance. CCNV paid Reid the final instalment on delivery. They had not discussed copyright in the sculpture. They both filed competing certificates.

The District Court held that CCNV had the copyright, as it was a ‘work made for hire’ under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 101, owned exclusively by CCNV under § 201(b). This vests copyright ownership of works for hire in the employer or other person for whom the work is prepared, unless there is a written agreement to the contrary.


District of Columbia Circuit

The Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, held the sculpture was not a ‘work made for hire’ because Reid was not an employee, but an independent contractor. However it remanded to the lower court to determine if the statue’s copyright was co-owned under §201(a)

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court held Reid was an independent contractor, not an employee, so the work was not ‘made for hire’ under §101, and the copyright belonged to Reid, at least in part. Common law agency principles should be applied to decide whether a work is made by an employee or an independent contractor. Then the Copyright Act 1976 §101(1) or (2) should be applied. While the statute was silent on the meaning of ‘employee’, Congress could be inferred to have wanted to incorporate agency law definitions, as it also referred to the term ‘scope of employment’ that agency law uses. The general common law of agency must be used over the law of any particular state, in order to create a uniform, nationwide law. Reid supplied his own tools, was without any extensive supervision and was free in the way he met his deadlines. CCNV could not assign more projects to Reid, and paid him in the normal manner independent contractors are done. The case was remanded to determine whether CCNV could still be regarded as a joint author of the sculpture and co-owner of the copyright, if the District Court determined that the parties intended their contributions be merged into a unitary whole. Thurgood Marshall gave the court's opinion.


While the case was pending on remand, Mitch Snyder of CCNV died. The parties subsequently filed a “Joint Motion for Entry of Consent Judgment.” The consent judgment has the following terms:

  • Reid was the author of Third World America and solely owned the copyrights to three-dimensional copies of the work, but Reid agreed to certain restrictions on how three-dimensional copies presented the work.
  • CCNV solely owned the physical copy of the sculpture.
  • CCNV and Reid were co-owners of two-dimensional copies of the work. The consent specified certain restrictions on how both parties could authorize displays of the two-dimensional copies.

Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 1991 WL 415523 (D.D.C. 1991).

See also


External links

  • ^ 490 U.S. 730 (Text of the opinion on