CA Court Requires Actual, Not Ostensible Authority to Assign Copyright

In a slip opinion issued November, 7, 2012, the California Court of Appeals in MVP Entertainment, Inc. vs. Frost, B235100 (Ca. Ct. App. Nov. 7, 2012) held that a copyright owner’s agent must have actual, not ostensible authority in order to convey rights held by the copyright owner. In the case, MVP sought the rights to turn a book into a movie. The copyright owner’s attorney purportedly agreed via e-mail to the transfer the rights, but the copyright owner did not sign a separate written agreement to that effect, and subsequently did not agree to the transfer. MVP sued for breach of contract, arguing that the attorney had ostensible authority to bind the copyright owner. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment for the copyright owner, finding that ostensible authority is insufficient under Section 204 of the Copyright Act and that actual authority is required for a transfer of rights, quoting the language in Section 204 requiring the writing to be signed by the owner or the owner’s “duly authorized agent”, which the Court defined as an agent with actual authority.