Erickson v. Trinity Theatre, Inc.
13 F.3d 1061 (7th Cir. 1994)

  • Erickson worked for Trinity Theatre where she prepared three plays for the company.
  • They had a falling out and Erickson quit. When Trinity continued to perform the plays, Erickson sued for copyright infringement.
    • Erickson argued that she was the author, and therefore controlled the rights to the plays.
    • Trinity argued that, since the actors made suggestions about the play to Erickson during production and rehearsals, Trinity was a co-author.
      • Under copyright law, a joint work (aka one with multiple authors) can be licensed by any one of the authors, even over the objections of the others.
  • The Trial Court found for Erickson. Trinity appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court considered two approaches for determining if someone was a co-author:
      • The de minimis test, where everyone who contributed even a tiny bit to the whole is considered a ­co-author.
        • This theory was popularized by a guy named Nimmer.
      • The copyrightable subject matter test, which says that a contributor is only a co-author if that person's contribution would be theoretically copyrightable by itself.
        • This theory was popularized by a guy named Goldstein.
    • The Court found that the copyrightable subject matter test was the proper test to use.
    • The Court found that the contributions of the actors was not enough to be independently copyrightable, therefore they could not be considered co-authors of the plays.