Conversion Claim Distinct from Copyright Infringement

Conversion of a particular object on which a copyrightable work is imbedded is not the same as copyright infringement. It is therefore not preempted by federal copyright law, according to Civic Partners Stockton, LLC v. Youssefi, 218 Cal. App. 4th 1005, 1008, 160 Cal. Rptr. 3d 625, 628 (2013), reh’g denied (Sept. 4, 2013), review denied (Nov. 13, 2013). Also currently available here, and also on Google Scholar.

The case involved alleged conversion of copyrighted hotel renovation plans. Plaintiff Civic Partners Stockton, LLC was the initial developer engaged to renovate a hotel. It obtained a copy of the architectural plans from the architect, the copyright owner, for use in plaintiff’s credit application. That copy was then given to the Redevelopment Agency, who in turn gave it to the successor developer – the Youssefi defendants. The successor developer Youssefi used the copy of the architectural plans to prepare part of its own credit application for the same building project. Plaintiff Civic Partners Stockton, LLC filed suit against the successor developer, alleging conversion of the plans. The trial court granted the Youssefi defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings as to cause of action for conversion of the hotel plans, concluding that claim was preempted by federal copyright law. 17 USCA § 301.

The Court of Appeal, however, adopted plaintiff’s analogy, as follows:

Using the coffee cup analogy, an action can be for conversion of a plain cup, for conversion of a cup with a protected hotel logo on it, or for infringement of the copyright for the hotel logo. The fact that one may not be suing for conversion of a plain cup does not thereby mean the suit is for infringement of the copyright for the logo thereon. It may instead be for conversion of a cup whose value is enhanced by the presence of the logo.

Civic Partners Stockton, LLC v. Youssefi, 218 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1017.

The Court of Appeal concluded:

[P]laintiff is suing for conversion of a particular object on which the copyrighted work is embodied. As alleged in the fourth amended complaint, Thus, the copy of the plans was used as the architect intended, but by a different party. This does not state a claim for copyright violation but for conversion of a particular object containing a copyrightable work. (See 17 U.S.C. § 202.) We therefore conclude the trial court erred in granting judgment on the pleadings on the first cause of action of the fourth amended complaint on the basis of federal copyright preemption.

Civic Partners Stockton, LLC v. Youssefi, 218 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1017.

 

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