Ex-Patriot Matt Chatham and his wife sued their former builder Daniel Lewis and his company, Canterbury Ventures in 2017, accusing Lewis of seeking to sell a house built using Chatham’s copyrighted custom architectural plans to a third party after failing to complete construction for the Chathams and then unilaterally terminating their agreement. Prior to the close of discovery, the Defendants moved for summary judgment on the copyright, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims, and further that specific performance was not available. The motion was argued before Magistrate Judge Cabell, who yesterday recommended denial the Defendants’ motion in its entirety. Defendants had argued that the copyright claim should fail because Chatham never reserved his copyrights when giving the plans to Lewis, and therefore could no longer claim copyright protection. Judge Cabell, noting that copyright vests at the time of creation, found this argument to have no legal consequences, because silence does not affect the validity of an existing copyright. He found that the First Sale Doctrine does not apply, because while the Chathams may have provided a copy of the plans and authorized the use to build the Chatham’s home, they did not sell the copyrighted article. Finally he determined that, while the Chathams’ Purchase and Sale Agreement licensed Canterbury to use the plans to construct the house, there was a factual dispute as to whether the scope of the license permitted construction of the house for sale to anyone other than the Chathams. On the contract issue, Judge Cabell determined that there was a factual dispute as to whether the P&S Agreement terminated as of the last closing date identified in the Agreement or whether there was an oral agreement to extend the Agreement to allow the home to be completed and sold to the Chathams. He noted that correspondence from counsel for the Defendants following the purported termination stating that “Canterbury continues to perform construction on the Property in good faith and in accordance with the P&S” and the fact that Canterbury continued working on the house in consultation with the Chathams following the purported termination date provided “strong if not dispositive evidence” that the parties had agreed to extend. Finally, he denied the motion with respect to the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and specific performance as they were reliant on success in the copyright and contract parts of the motion.
I and others at my firm, along with Paul Mordarski and Jordan Carroll of Morrissey, Hawkins & Lynch, represent the Chathams in this matter, and naturally, we are quite pleased with the result.