Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fed. Circuit: prisoners get no copyright love

Robert James Walton was not your average federal prisoner. The convicted bank robber earned a college degree while incarcerated, and became proficient at desktop publishing. While at Leavenworth, he worked for Federal Prison Industries Inc., for which he
developed and produced desk-blotter calendars for the years 2000 and 2001-2002. Federal Prison Industries made a substantial number of those calendars, which it distributed to General Services Administration warehouses throughout the country. It also sold the calendars to private purchasers.
For this work, Mr. Walton made "from $0.23 to $1.15 per hour and various other benefits," which, while modest, is vastly higher compensation than one earns as Editor and Publisher of the Copyrights & Campaigns blog. But for Mr. Walton, the salary was not sufficient; he wanted a piece of the back-end. Yet he found that it's harder to get a dime out of the BOP than even the stingiest of studios. So, of course, he sued the government for copyright infringement.

Poor Mr. Walton lost in the Court of Federal Claims, and today, despite some heavyweight legal assistance, he lost again in the Federal Circuit. It all came down to the Federal Circuit's conclusion that Mr. Walton prepared the calendars while in the "service" of the government, and was therefore barred by 28 U.S.C. § 1498(b) from suing said government for copyright infringement.

My condolences to Mr. Walton on his loss. But he is apparently now free to put his calendar-making skills to use in the private sector, where one trusts he can earn more than "$0.23 to $1.15 per hour and various other benefits," if not a piece of the back-end.

(h/t How Appealing)


  1. His name is eerily similar to that of Robert James Waller, author of Bridges of Madison County. Sad that, of the two, Walton is the one imprisoned for his crimes.

    What's copyrightable about a desk-blotter calendar? Did he re-organize the months in an innovative fashion?

  2. If you can't even get a piece of the back end in prison, ...


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