Thursday, June 27, 2013

Copyright Law - Second Circuit: Can Lamp Fixture Elements Be Conceptually Separable?

Copyrightability of Useful Objects, Merger Doctrine, Separability, Light Fixtures and Lamps, Motion to Dismiss Copyright Infringement Action

Aqua Creations USA Inc. v. Hilton Worldwide, Inc., 2012 WL 2687957 (2d Cir. July 9, 2012)(unpublished summary order).  Here the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim.   Plaintiff was a manufacturer of lamp fixtures.  The Copyright Office denied Plaintiff registration for the lamp fixtures.  Useful items are not generally copyrightable.  An exception is only to the extent that a design “incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article”.  The court noted that no aspect of the lamp could be physically separated, citing the famous Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201 (1954)(copyrighted statue of a dancer as a lamp base remained protectable).   The court then reviewed “conceptual severability” (also known as the “merger doctrine”) – “if design elements reflect a merger of aesthetic and functional considerations, the artistic aspects of a work cannot be said to be conceptually separable from the utilitarian elements.”   Conversely “where design elements can be identified as reflecting the designer’s artistic judgment exercised independently of functional influences, conceptual separability exists.”   Pleading tip:  the court chided plaintiff for pleading in a conclusory manner that elements were conceptually and physically separable, but failing to identify any such elements, even on appeal.  In drafting a complaint, a plaintiff should specify elements that are either physically or conceptually separable.
 Purchase Copyright Litigation Handbook 2012-2013 by Raymond J. Dowd from West here  

No comments: