Carol Lay Discovers Community Property Includes Intellectual Property
Submitted by Xaviar Xerexes on April 19, 2004 - 14:50
There are several states in the United States that have "community property" laws. In these states, generally, all property acquired during a marriage is the "community property" of the marriage. This doesn't actually mean much legally unless a couple gets divorced and property must be divided.
Federal copyright law gives the creator legal rights in their creation. States with community property laws (this chart lists those states) have had to decide whether the author's copyright under federal law means that person retains an individual ownership right in their creations or whether material created during a marriage leads to the copyright being "community property."
In California, as Carol Lay discovered, upon getting a divorce, community property law trumps federal copyright law. In Louisiana community property also trumps but there is a more nuanced approach. A recent case, Rodrigue v. Rodrigue, held that:
The author-spouse in whom copyright vests maintains exclusive managerial control of copyright but, under Louisiana law, economic benefits of copyrighted work belong to the community while it exists and to former spouses in indivision thereafter.
See this article for more discusion of this decision. Each state with community property laws will have its own jurisprudence on how this issue is resolved.