The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of Indianapolis Public Schools in a copyright infringement case, but first had to decide whether it could proceed on the merits.
In Angela E. Brooks-Ngwenya v. Indianapolis Public Schools, No. 08-1973, Angela Brooks-Ngwenya sued the school system after she was fired claiming copyright infringement over the school's use of a program that she developed for the school, and employment discrimination. Her discrimination claims were barred because they had already been settled in a previous suit.
While working at a middle school, Brooks-Ngwenya developed "Transitioning into Responsible Students" or TIRS, which she claimed IPS promised to buy and to hire her as a full-time permanent classroom coordinator if the program was successful. The school continued to use TIRS after she was fired and didn't purchase the program.
In the suit that settled, she had claimed copyright infringement, but that issue was dismissed without prejudice. She renewed her claims in District Court in 2007. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of IPS, ruling she couldn't win on the copyright claim because registration is a prerequisite to file a suit and her application to register TIRS was rejected by the Copyright Office. The office later approved her application.
In order to rule on Brooks-Ngwenya's suit, the per curium court had to decide whether she could proceed with her copyright infringement claim. The 7th Circuit examined the requirements under 17 U.S.C. Section 411(a), which say an applicant must inform the Register of Copyrights about any suit. Even though there's no evidence she sent notice of the suit, the purpose of the notification requirement was fulfilled, the per curium court ruled.
"The district court should have insisted on Brooks-Ngwenya's compliance with the requirement that she notify the Copyright Office about her lawsuit. Otherwise the Register would have no opportunity to choose to defend the decision to deny registration. But the point is now academic, because the Register did weigh in during the litigation, not by intervening but by granting Brooks-Ngwenya's renewed application," wrote the court. "We are free to recognize that fact even though the district court was incorrectly persuaded by IPS that it could not."
The record showed Brooks-Ngwenya didn't prove or even try to prove IPS copied any of the material protected by the copyright and copyright protection doesn't apply to an idea but to the original expression of it, wrote the court.