U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Water Analyst Can Publish Water Use Report, 7th Cir. Rules

A water analyst hired by Chicago's non-profit Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) will be allowed to publish the findings of a water report that "left the Alliance dissatisfied."

Even though the plaintiff in the case sought to be completely disassociated with the report, it does not appear that will be possible under the terms of the court finding. The circuit's response? Tough luck.

Write a Good Report

AWE, a non-profit organization operating out of Chicago, hired James Fryer to analyze the urban water usage and how the local municipal programs affected water demand elasticity during times of water shortages. Fryer completed his analysis and presented his finding to AWE. the Alliance was "dissatisfied" with the results and decided not to publish the findings.

How Fortuitous for California

Meanwhile, California continues to suffer one of the worst droughts in its history. The California Department of Water Resources was an Alliance co-sponsor sought to publish some of of Fryer's findings. Fryer, for his part agreed to remove Alliance's name from any report to be published, but Alliance pushed not only for a redaction of its own name, but any organization that had participated through its committee. A federal magistrate sided with AWE, but on December 22, the Seventh Circuit reversed.

What Federal Question?

AWE had relied on theory of copyright in order to keep the report under wraps. According to AWE, it had hired Fryer to author the report and was thus the owner of its contents. This theory was unavailing. In fact, the circuit noted that the contact with Alliance made no mention in writing that Fryer had agreed that the report would be "work for hire." Therefore, the circuit found, the federal question was wholly inapplicable.

The judge also addressed Alliance's concern that once published, a reasonable public could interpret the report as in fact being associated with AWE, a result that the non-profit had hoped to avoid from the beginning. "That's the nature of compromise," the Circuit said. "Neither side gets everything it wants."

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