It’s not a hard concept—to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit you have to own a copyright. Nevertheless, getting that right seems to be a challenge sometimes.
Today’s version of the challenge is ownership of the copyrights for works created by Earl Vernon Biss, Jr., who died in 1998 – here is his biography on one of the defendant websites. Plaintiff Lou Lou Goss is his surviving spouse and sole heir.
Lou Lou filed the copyright infringement lawsuit in May of 2012, then filed for bankruptcy in October, 2013. The bankruptcy court allowed the bankruptcy claimants to seek a judicial determination from the Colorado state probate court on ownership of the Biss copyrights and any claims arising from the copyrights. The probate court found, based on Lou Lou’s own filings as personal representative of the estate, that the copyright and litigation claims “were and remained property of [Biss’s] Probate Estate subject to probate administration, including the claims of creditors and the costs and expenses of probate administration.” The probate court then authorized a sheriff’s levy on the copyright and litigation claims for execution sales to satisfy creditors’ claims.
So simply enough, if the copyrights were part of Biss’ probate estate, Lou Lou didn’t own them. Which means she didn’t have standing and her copyright infringement case was dismissed.
Goss v. Zueger, Civ. No. 1:21-cv-01424-DME-BNB (D. Colo. March 7, 2014).