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 U.S. 730 (1989),[1] was a United States Supreme Court case regarding ownership of copyright.


The plaintiff, Community for Creative Non-Violence, was a non-profit organization that wanted to bring attention to the problem of homelessness. They solicited a sculpture from the defendant, James Earl Reid, specifying that they desired a depiction of homeless people in a nativity set-up with specific wording on the sculpture. The plaintiffs also agreed to make the base, suggested people to use as models, and suggested changes throughout the process. Neither party raised the issue of copyright, nor did the parties put anything about it in writing. Later, the plaintiff claimed to "own" the work, and sought to claim possession of it from the defendant.


Does the work fall under the "work-for-hire" doctrine such that plaintiff can be deemed the author of the work for copyright purposes?

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Court, in an opinion by Justice Thurgood Marshall, noted that there are two distinct categories of persons to whom the work-for-hire doctrine applies: employees, or contractor for nine specific types of work, with written acknowledgment. Congress having left out a definition, "employee" was understood to be common-law master-and-servant definition. The Court then looked to traditional factual determinations about the relationship between the parties (hired party’s control over accomplishment of the task; provision of tools; right of artist to employ his own helpers; whether creation was in hirer’s line of business; hirer’s control over when and how long hired party is to work; method of payment; tax treatment of the hired party, etc.). Based on this examination, the Court found that the defendant fell into neither category, so the work was not work-for-hire. Remanded to determine if it is a joint work.

Later developments[edit]

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[edit]

External links[edit]

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