Steward Software Co. v. Kopcho

Docket Number: 10SC711
Judge: Nancy E. Rice
Opinion Date: December 12, 2011

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a claim under Colorado law for civil theft of a copyrightable work required a trial court to instruct the jury on principles of federal copyright law. Petitioner Steward Software hired Respondent Richard Kopcho to develop and market a new software program. Steward never entered into a written agreement governing the ownership of the software with Holonyx, Inc. (one of Respondent’s multiple corporate entities) or Respondent. By the time the software was ready for testing, the relationship between the parties had become strained. Steward refused to make further payments and under Respondent’s direction, Holonyx locked Steward out of the software code and refused to turn it over. Holonyx then filed a copyright registration for the software with the U.S. Copyright Office, listing the software’s author a new corporation Respondent controlled called Ruffdogs Software, Inc. Steward sued Respondent for breach of contract and civil theft. Before trial, the parties tendered proposed jury instructions; one of Steward’s proposed instructions pertained to the ownership and registration of copyrightable works. The trial court determined that copyright law did not pertain to Steward’s civil theft claim and rejected the tendered instruction. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that ownership of the copyright in the code was irrelevant. The Court thus concluded the trial court correctly refused to instruct the jury on the principles of copyright law. The court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the trial court’s opinion.
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