WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. Supreme Court refused in early December to consider an appeal by an artist’s widow who claims she owns the copyright to paintings created by her husband for Playboy magazine.
Jennifer Dumas, the widow of Patrick Nagel, argued that she, not the magazine, owns the copyright to works Nagel created after a new federal copyright law was enacted in 1978. The law states that copyright belongs to the person who created a work, but when a work is “made for hire” the rights belong to the person who hired the creator. Ownership of the works is disputed because of questions concerning the wording of the check endorsements that Nagel signed and whether they constitute proof of a work-for-hire relationship.
Nagel reportedly created almost 300 paintings, primarily of nude women, printed in Playboy from 1974 until his death in 1984. After Nagel’s death, Playboy filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Dumas after she arranged to reprint some of the paintings which previously appeared in the magazine.
The two parties later agreed to market Nagel’s work jointly, but the partnership dissolved in 1991. In May the dispute resulted in a U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Cir.) ruling that Playboy was entitled to the paintings created before January 1977 because they were produced in a work-for-hire relationship under the 1909 copyright law, while Dumas was entitled to those created between January 1978 and July 1979. The appeals court ordered the district court to determine ownership of works created in 1977 and after September 1979. The court was also asked to decide whether Nagel transferred the copyright of his works to Playboy during this time period. (Playboy v. Dumas; Artist’s Counsel: Roger Zissu, Laurence Rickels, New York; Publisher’s Counsel: Kenneth P. Norwick, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., New York)