Who Owns the ‘Fruits’ of Prisoner’s Labor?

Suits & Sentences Blog has an excellent post discussing the question, which is not a question anymore, of who owns the fruits of prisoner’s labor. Well, a recent Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit says that by virtue a prisoner’s work belongs to Uncle Sam. More so, a federal prisoner is “in service” of the United States. The story is about Robert James Walton who is a very talented federal prisoner.

James Walton, the Vietnam veteran, convicted bank robber and well-trained desktop publishing expert designed a 2001 desk-blotter calendar, as well as several other calendars, while imprisoned at Leavenworth. Federal Prison Industries then distributed millions of copies of the calendars to Government Services Administration warehouses.

Now serving out his 210-month sentence in Colorado, Walton sued on the ground that the government had stolen his intellectual property. The government retorted that he didn’t own the copyright. He got a lawyer, and obtained the copyright. Nonetheless, last January, the Court of Federal Claims ruled against him. Copyright infringement suits can’t succeed if the work was prepared “in the employment or service” of the federal government.

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