BAKER BOTTS LLP
PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY/CLIENT COMMUNICATION
January 7, 2002
VIA FACSIMILE: 713 629 2248
James L. Gosdin
Senior Vice President/Senior Underwriting Counsel
Stewart Title Guaranty Company
National Legal Department
1980 Post Oak Boulevard, Suite 770
Houston, Texas 77056
RE:Survey Copyright Issue
Our File: 019723.0114
Dear Mr. Gosdin:
Pursuant to your request, we reviewed various issues concerning real property
survey maps made by surveyors. Our views with respect to these issues are summarized
below. In this letter, all references to "The Act" are references
to the 1976 Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code). This letter
assumes, but does not opine, that such surveys are copyrightable. It further
assumes, but does not opine, that the surveying company (or individual surveyor
in the case of a sole proprietor) owns the copyright in a survey in the absence
of a written agreement to the contrary.
Our views are based solely upon the copyright laws of the United States of
America and we express no views with respect to any matter that is governed
by the law of any other jurisdiction or by any other kind of law. We have suggested
contractual language in various places. Such contractual language will not necessarily
be interpreted the same or be enforceable in every state or other relevant jurisdiction.
Our views are given as of the date hereof and we do not undertake any obligation
or responsibility to inform you or to update or supplement this opinion in response
to subsequent changes in the law or future events affecting the views stated
This letter is furnished to you solely for your benefit in connection with
your internal consideration of the issues upon which you have requested our
views. This letter and the views expressed herein may not be used or relied
upon by you for any other purpose and may not be relied upon for any purpose
by any other person or entity without our express prior written consent. You
should also realize that disclosure of this letter to third parties may waive
the attorney-client privilege as to the issues discussed herein and could subject
you to various kinds of liability. If you choose to provide this letter to any
third party, no attorney/client relationship is created thereby between such
third party and Baker Botts L.L.P. (or any member or employee thereof) nor is
such third party entitled to rely upon this letter and the views expressed herein.
1. Under what conditions will a purchaser of a survey from a surveyor have
the express or implied right to make copies of the survey?
Assuming that the surveyor owns the copyright to a survey, some type of license
would ordinarily be required to make copies. Generally, a copyright owner has
control over the use and redistribution of the protected work. This includes
the exclusive right to reproduce the work (make copies) and to distribute copies
of the work. 17 U.S.C. § 106. While a fair use defense might be successful
depending upon the circumstances of the copying, that defense must be analyzed
on a case by case basis and the purpose of the copying is an important factor.
Setting aside the possibility of fair use, the purchaser of the survey would
generally require an express or implied license.
a. Express License. A written contract between the surveyor and the purchaser
of the survey could include the express, unrestricted right to copy the survey.
Also, a general statement granting permission to copy placed on the survey
itself by the surveyor would likely suffice. A written contract allowing copying
for limited purposes would also be sufficient presuming that the copy was
made for an allowable purpose.
A written license is not necessarily required in some circumstances. The Act
requires the exclusive grant of rights to be in writing. 17 U.S.C. §
201(d). However, a nonexclusive license may be granted orally, or may even
be implied from conduct. Lulirama Ltd., Inc. v. Axcess Broadcast Services,
Inc., 128 F.3d 872, 879 (5th Cir. 1997). While express nonexclusive license
can sometimes be granted orally, oral licenses are obviously dangerous for
a third party to rely upon.
b. Implied License. As you might suspect, the conditions where a purchaser
will have the implied right to make copies of a survey is a much grayer area.
While the purchaser may have an implied license in certain circumstances,
implied licenses are beyond the scope of this letter.
2. How can a homeowner, survey purchaser, lender, or other person secure
permission to make copies of the survey and to use the survey in subsequent
The best way to obtain the ability to make unfettered use of the survey is
to obtain ownership of the copyright in the survey itself. We suggest that you
consider making assignment of copyright to the survey a non-negotiable issue
in your contractual relationships with surveyors and with surveying companies.
To the extent that you do not contract with surveyors directly, you will need
to rely upon those who do enter into such contracts in order to obtain the rights.
The assignment language below assumes that "Surveyor" is the owner
of the copyright (but counsel should be consulted to make this determination).
An appropriate assignment provision might be as follows:
Assignment: "Surveyor does hereby sell, assign, and transfer
to Purchaser, its successors and assigns, the entire right, title and interest
in and to the copyright in the Survey and any registrations and copyright
applications relating thereto and any renewals and extensions thereof and
in and to all works based upon, derived from, or incorporating the Survey."
In the alternative, a license (including a right to sublicense) granting permission
to make copies of the survey, as well as the right to use the survey in subsequent
transactions, could be included in the written agreement with the surveyor.
The license language below assumes that "Surveyor" is the owner of
the copyright (but counsel should be consulted to make this determination).
In general, the right to sublicense must be expressly provided and will not
be implied. Ozyagcilar v. Davis, 221 U.S.P.Q. 1064, 1070 (D. S.C. 1983). This
right should be expressly provided as it may be a desirable right for the purchaser
of the survey to have. Because the owner of the property also may desire to
transfer the license to a third party who purchases the property, it also may
be desirable to make the license transferable. An example transferable written
license that includes a sublicensing provision is as follows:
License: "Surveyor hereby grants to Purchaser, as well as any
party participating in a transaction related to the property that is the subject
of the Survey, a world-wide, paid-up, royalty-free, transferable non-exclusive
license, with the right to sublicense, to copy and distribute copies of the
Survey for any purpose whatsoever."
3. Does the copyright prevent the customer from giving or selling the original
survey to a third party or allowing a third party to review the survey on a
This section assumes that the surveyor owns the copyright, that there is no
written agreement between the copyright owner and the customer to the contrary
and that the customer obtains ownership of the copies of the survey when they
are purchased. Under those circumstances (and assuming no violation of some
other legal right), the Copyright Act allows the owner of a copy of the survey
to give or sell the survey to a third party. The owner of a copy lawfully made
is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise
dispose of the possession of that copy. 17 U.S.C. § 109. This concept is
commonly referred to as the "first sale doctrine." Thus, a customer
would be able to give or sell the original survey to a third party. Note, however,
that neither the third party nor the customer, would have the right to reproduce
the survey simply because the customer is allowed to dispose of an existing
copy. See Design Options, Inc. v. BellePointe, Inc., 940 F. Supp. 86, 91 (S.D.N.Y.
1996) Likewise, a third party would be allowed to review a survey on a subsequent
transaction as long as a copy is not made and the survey is not being shown
to the public at large. Id.
4. May we review a copy of a survey provided by an owner of the land?
This section again assumes that the surveyor is the owner of the copyright.
It also assumes that the copy is a legal one that is owned by the party providing
it to you. You should verify that the party providing you the copy had authorization
to make the copy. Given the analysis of section 3, it is permissible for the
owner of the copy of the survey to give that copy to you for review. It would
then be permissible for you to review that copy. If you wanted to make a copy,
you would need to consider the analysis in the rest of this letter and other
factors to determine whether copying was permissible.
We appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance to you, and hope that this
information is helpful. Please let me know if we can be of further assistance.
Very truly yours,
David G. Wille