The French civil Supreme Court, the Cour de cassation, held on January 15 that a corporation cannot be the author of a work protected by copyright: “une personne morale ne peut avoir la qualité d’auteur.” The case is Cass. Civ. 1ère, No. 13-23566.
Article L. 113-1 of the French Intellectual Property Code (FIPC) states that “[t]he copyright belongs, unless proved otherwise, to the person or persons under whose name the work is published.” While a “corporation” translates in French as a “personne morale,” article L. 113-1 must be interpreted as only referring to physical persons, not “personnes morales.”
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In our case, a professor of medicine and a computer engineer, together created Tridim, a company which is designing, creating and distributing cephalometric analysis software. Such software may be used to study the dimensions of the skull and the face, whether in photographsor x-rays in order to detect abnormalities.
The two parties disagreed about the ownership of intellectual property in the software. The professor of medicine became the majority manager of Tridim, and filed suit against the Orqual and Orthalis companies, managed by the engineer, to have the court declare that two software programs, “Tridim Delaire-2008" and "Architectural Cephalometry 2010" were collective works, and also to recognize that Tridim was their sole copyright owner.
As it is often the case, the Cour de cassation did not explain its decision, but it is a logical consequence of the rather romantic French conception of the definition of an author. It attaches great importance to how a work was created, and how such work represents the personality of the author. But a corporation does not have a “personality.” Also, article L. 113-2 §1 of the FIPC, which was not, however, quoted by the Cour de cassation, states that a collective work (oeuvre de collaboration) is a “creative work in which more than one natural person have collaborated.”
This position has long been taken by the Cour de Cassation, which had held on March 17, 1982 that a corporation can only be originally invested of the author's rights in a collective work if it had been created at its initiative and disclosed under its name. This is quite different from U.S. copyright law, which grants corporations the right to be authors of a work for hire, if they employed the author of the work or commissioned the work.
However, it should be noted that, under French law, a corporation may still acquire the copyright of a work, collective or not, by purchasing it or licensing it: a corporation may, of course, sign a check, but is not able to create.