You are here

17.25 Copyright—Affirmative Defense—Implied License

Printer-friendly version
17.25 Copyright—Affirmative Defense—Implied License             

            The defendant contends that [he] [she] [it] is not liable for copyright infringement because the plaintiff granted [him] [her] [it] an implied license in the plaintiff’s copyrighted work.  The plaintiff cannot claim copyright infringement against a defendant who [copies] [distributes] [uses] [modifies] [retains] the plaintiff’s copyrighted work if the plaintiff granted the defendant an implied license to [copy] [distribute] [use] [modify] [retain] the work.  

            In order to show the existence of an implied license, the defendant has the burden of proving that: 

            1.       the defendant requested that the plaintiff create a work;

            2.      the plaintiff made that particular work and delivered it to the defendant; and

            3.      the plaintiff intended that the defendant [copy] [distribute] [use] [retain] the plaintiff's work.             


             If you find that the defendant has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff granted [him] [her] [it] an implied license to [copy] [distribute] [use] [modify] [retain] the copyrighted work, your verdict should be for the defendant [on that portion of the plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim]. 


            The above instruction is based on Effects Associates, Inc. v. Cohen, 908 F.2d 555, 558-59 (9th Cir. 1990) and Asset Marketing Systems, Inc. v. Gagnon, 542 F.3d 748, 754-57 (9th Cir. 2008) (setting forth this test in this form).  See also U.S. Auto Parts Network, Inc. v. Parts Geek, LLC, 692 F.3d 1009, 1019-20 (9th Cir. 2012) (applyingthis test to reverse grant of summary judgment because reasonable jury could find implied license).        

            Although this model instruction accurately captures one recurring set of implied license facts, implied licenses arise in a wide variety of circumstances, including many—such as express contracts that fail because of the statute of frauds or partnership arrangements—for which the elements of an implied license will be different. 

            Implied license is an affirmative defense to copyright infringement.  Asset Mktg., 542 F.3d at 754.  When a plaintiff contributes copyrightable work to the defendant in exchange for some benefit (such as a share in partnership profits, a fee, or a salary), a license for the defendant to use plaintiff’s work may be implied.  See U.S. Auto Parts, 692 F.3d at 1019-20 (discussing existence of implied license in context of employment relationship); Asset Mktg., 542 F.3d at 750, 754-55(involving independent contractor relationship); Oddo v. Ries, 743 F.2d 630, 634 (9th Cir. 1984)(involving partnership relationship).  A license is often implied when “without such a license, [the plaintiff’s compensated] contribution…would have been of minimal value.”  Id.  

            An implied license may be implied by conduct.  See Foad Consulting Grp., Inc. v. Azzalino, 270 F.3d 821, 825 (9th Cir. 2001).  It may be unlimited in scope or restricted to certain specific rights.  Compare Asset Mktg., 542 F.3d at 757 (finding that plaintiff granted defendant “unlimited” implied license “to retain, use, and modify” work), with Oddo, 743 F.2dat 634 (plaintiff granted defendant implied license to use work in manuscript and not “in any work other than the manuscript itself”).  The defendant bears the burden of proof as to the scope and existence of an implied license.  Id. at 634 & n.6.  Limitations on the scope of an implied license may be strictly construed.  See id. at 634(finding that implied license to use copyrighted work in a manuscript does not imply “the right to use the [copyrighted work] in any work other than the manuscript itself”); cf. Asset Mktg, 542 F.3d at 757 (finding plaintiff granted defendant “unlimited” implied license “to retain, use, and modify” work when plaintiff previously evinced no intent to limit the scope of defendant’s use).