The Ninth Circuit yesterday upheld a judgment that a software writer wrote software as an "employee" of JustMed, Inc., a start-up company that set out to make a "digital audio larynx", rather than as an "independent contractor". The distinction made a difference because federal copyright law deems the works of an employee the property of the employer under the "works made for hire" part of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 201(b). JustMed, Inc. v. Byce, No. 07-35861 (9th Cir. Apr. 5, 2010).
The panel also grappled with whether the ownership fight between JustMed and Michael Byce invoked federal question jurisdiction (it did) and whether Byce misappropriated JustMed's trade secret rights in the software (he didn't).