Sunday, February 2, 2014

Class 9: Pictorial, Graphic & Sculptural Works


Section 102(a)(5) of the Copyright Act provides that copyright protects "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works." 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(5). And Section 101 explains:
“Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans. Such works shall include works of artistic craftsmanship insofar as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned; the design of a useful article, as defined in this section, shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such 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.
17 U.S.C. § 101.

In other words, the term "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" means any work of visual art, in any medium, made for any purpose. Under the Bleistein principle of "aesthetic non-discrimination," courts do not distinguish between fine art and commercial art, but apply the same standard to all works of visual art.

  1. During WWII, GIs created the iconic logo "Kilroy," which consisted of a graffito and a slogan, "Kilroy was here." Under the 1976 Act, would the GI who created the logo own a copyright in the logo?

    An engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Monument in Washington, D.C.
  2. In 1963, Harvey Ball created the iconic smiley face design for State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. Could Ball or his employer have registered a copyright in the design?

    Harvey Ball, Smiley Face (1963)

  3. In 1980, I created the drawing below. Do I own a copyright in the drawing?

  4. In 1957, French painter Yves Klein presented the exhibition "Proposte Monochrome, Epoca Blu" (Proposition Monochrome; Blue Epoch), which consisted of 11 identical monochrome paintings of the color blue. Klein used ultramarine pigment suspended in synthetic resin to preserve the intensity of the color, and offset the paintings from the wall, in order to create spatial ambiguities. Under the 1976 Act, would Klein own a copyright in his paintings

    Yves Klein, IKB 191 (1962)
Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201 (1954)
MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court. 
This case involves the validity of copyrights obtained by respondents for statuettes of male and female dancing figures made of semivitreous china. The controversy centers around the fact that, although copyrighted as "works of art," the statuettes were intended for use and used as bases for table lamps, with electric wiring, sockets, and lamp shades attached. 
Respondents are partners in the manufacture and sale of electric lamps. One of the respondents created original works of sculpture in the form of human figures by traditional clay-model technique. From this model, a production mold for casting copies was made. The resulting statuettes, without any lamp components added, were submitted by the respondents to the Copyright Office for registration as "works of art" or reproductions thereof under § 5(g) or § 5(h) of the copyright law, and certificates of registration issued. Sales (publication in accordance with the statute) as fully equipped lamps preceded the applications for copyright registration of the statuettes. 17 U.S.C. (Supp. V, 1952) §§ 10, 11, 13, 209; Rules and Regulations, 37 CFR, 1949, §§ 202.8 and 202.9. Thereafter, the statuettes were sold in quantity throughout the country both as lamp bases and as statuettes. The sales in lamp form accounted for all but an insignificant portion of respondents' sales.
Petitioners are partners, and, like respondents, make and sell lamps. Without authorization, they copied the statuettes, embodied them in lamps, and sold them. 
The instant case is one in a series of reported suits brought by respondents against various alleged infringers of the copyrights, all presenting the same or a similar question. Because of conflicting decisions, we granted certiorari. 346 U.S. 811. In the present case, respondents sued petitioners for infringement in Maryland. Stein v. Mazer, 111 F.Supp. 359. Following the Expert decision and rejecting the reasoning of the District Court in the Rosenthal opinion, both referred to in the preceding note, the District Court dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals reversed, and held the copyrights valid. Stein v. Mazer, 204 F.2d 472. It said: 
"A subsequent utilization of a work of art in an article of manufacture in no way affects the right of the copyright owner to be protected against infringement of the work of art itself."
204 F.2d at 477. 
Petitioners, charged by the present complaint with infringement of respondents' copyrights of reproductions of their works of art, seek here a reversal of the Court of Appeals decree upholding the copyrights. Petitioners, in their petition for certiorari, present a single question: 
"Can statuettes be protected in the United States by copyright when the copyright applicant intended primarily to use the statuettes in the form of lamp bases to be made and sold in quantity and carried the intentions into effect?" 
"Stripped down to its essentials, the question presented is: can a lamp manufacturer copyright his lamp bases?" 
The first paragraph accurately summarizes the issue. The last gives it a quirk that unjustifiably, we think, broadens the controversy. The case requires an answer not as to a manufacturer's right to register a lamp base, but as to an artist's right to copyright a work of art intended to be reproduced for lamp bases. As petitioners say in their brief, their contention "questions the validity of the copyright based upon the actions of respondents." Petitioners question the validity of a copyright of a work of art for "mass" production. "Reproduction of a work of art" does not mean to them unlimited reproduction. Their position is that a copyright does not cover industrial reproduction of the protected article. Thus, their reply brief states: 
"When an artist becomes a manufacturer or a designer for a manufacturer, he is subject to the limitations of design patents, and deserves no more consideration than any other manufacturer or designer." 
It is not the right to copyright an article that could have utility under § 5(g) and (h), note 1 supra, that petitioners oppose. Their brief accepts the copyrightability of the great carved golden salt cellar of Cellini, but adds: 
"If, however, Cellini designed and manufactured this item in quantity so that the general public could have salt cellars, then an entirely different conclusion would be reached. In such case, the salt cellar becomes an article of manufacture having utility in addition to its ornamental value, and would therefore have to be protected by design patent." 
It is publication as a lamp and registration as a statue to gain a monopoly in manufacture that they assert is such a misuse of copyright as to make the registration invalid. 
No unfair competition question is presented. The constitutional power of Congress to confer copyright protection on works of art or their reproductions is not questioned. Petitioners assume, as Congress has in its enactments and, as do we, that the constitutional clause empowering legislation "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries," Art. I, § 8, cl. 8, includes within the term "Authors" the creator of a picture or a statue. The Court's consideration will be limited to the question presented by the petition for the writ of certiorari. In recent years, the question as to utilitarian use of copyrighted articles has been much discussed. 
In answering that issue, a review of the development of copyright coverage will make clear the purpose of the Congress in its copyright legislation. In 1790 the First Congress conferred a copyright on "authors of any map, chart, book or books already printed." Later, designing, engraving and etching were included; in 1831, musical composition; dramatic compositions in 1856; and photographs and negatives thereof in 1865. 
The Act of 1870 defined copyrightable subject matter as: 
". . . any book, map, chart, dramatic or musical composition, engraving, cut, print, or photograph or negative thereof, or of a painting, drawing, chromo, statute, statuary, and of models or designs intended to be perfected as works of the fine arts." 
(Emphasis supplied.) The italicized part added three-dimensional work of art to what had been protected previously. In 1909, Congress again enlarged the scope of the copyright statute. The new Act provided in § 4: 
"That the works for which copyright may be secured under this Act shall include all the writings of an author." 
Some writers interpret this section as being coextensive with the constitutional grant, but the House Report, while inconclusive, indicates that it was "declaratory of existing law" only. Section 5 relating to classes of writings in 1909 read as shown in the margin with subsequent additions not material to this decision. 
Significant for our purposes was the deletion of the fine arts clause of the 1870 Act. Verbal distinctions between purely aesthetic articles and useful works of art ended insofar as the statutory copyright language is concerned. 
The practice of the Copyright Office, under the 1870 and 1874 Acts and before the 1909 Act, was to allow registration "as works of the fine arts" of articles of the same character as those of respondents now under challenge. Seven examples appear in the Government's brief amicus curiae. In 1910, interpreting the 1909 Act, the pertinent Copyright Regulations read as shown in the margin. Because, as explained by the Government, this regulation "made no reference to articles which might fairly be considered works of art although they might also serve a useful purpose," it was reworded in 1917 as shown below. The amicus brief gives sixty examples selected at five-year intervals, 1912-1952, said to be typical of registrations of works of art possessing utilitarian aspects. The current pertinent regulation, published in 37 CFR, 1949, § 202.8, reads thus: 
"Works of art (Class G) -- (a) In General. This class includes works of artistic craftsmanship, in so far as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned, such as artistic jewelry, enamels, glassware, and tapestries, as well as all works belonging to the fine arts, such as paintings, drawings and sculpture. . . ." 
So we have a contemporaneous and long continued construction of the statutes by the agency charged to administer them that would allow the registration of such a statuette as is in question here. This Court once essayed to fix the limits of the fine arts. That effort need not be appraised in relation to this copyright issue. It is clear Congress intended the scope of the copyright statute to include more than the traditional fine arts. Herbert Putnam, Esq., then Librarian of Congress and active in the movement to amend the copyright laws, told the joint meeting of the House and Senate Committees: 
"The term 'works of art' is deliberately intended as a broader specification than 'works of the fine arts' in the present statute with the idea that there is subject matter (for instance, of applied design, not yet within the province of design patents), which may properly be entitled to protection under the copyright law." 
The successive acts, the legislative history of the 1909 Act and the practice of the Copyright Office unite to show that "works of art" and "reproductions of works of art" are terms that were intended by Congress to include the authority to copyright these statuettes. Individual perception of the beautiful is too varied a power to permit a narrow or rigid concept of art. As a standard, we can hardly do better than the words of the present Regulation, § 202.8, supra, naming the things that appertain to the arts. They must be original, that is, the author's tangible expression of his ideas. Compare Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U. S. 53, 111 U. S. 59-60. Such expression, whether meticulously delineating the model or mental image or conveying the meaning by modernistic form or color, is copyrightable. What cases there are confirm this coverage of the statute.
The conclusion that the statues here in issue may be copyrighted goes far to solve the question whether their intended reproduction as lamp stands bars or invalidates their registration. This depends solely on statutory interpretation. Congress may, after publication, protect by copyright any writing of an author. Its statute creates the copyright. It did not exist at common law even though he had a property right in his unpublished work. 
But petitioners assert that congressional enactment of the design patent laws should be interpreted as denying protection to artistic articles embodied or reproduced in manufactured articles. They say: 
"Fundamentally and historically, the Copyright Office is the repository of what each claimant considers to be a cultural treasure, whereas the Patent Office is the repository of what each applicant considers to be evidence of the advance in industrial and technological fields." 
Their argument is that design patents require the critical examination given patents to protect the public against monopoly. Attention is called to Gorham Mfg. Co. v. White, 14 Wall. 511, interpreting the design patent law of 1842, 5 Stat. 544, granting a patent to anyone who by "their own industry, genius, efforts, and expense, may have invented or produced any new and original design for a manufacture. . . ." A pattern for flat silver was there upheld. The intermediate and present law differs little. "Whoever invents any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture may obtain a patent therefor, . . . " subject generally to the provisions concerning patents for invention. § 171, 66 Stat. 805. As petitioner sees the effect of the design patent law:
"If an industrial designer can not satisfy the novelty requirements of the design patent laws, then his design as used on articles of manufacture can be copied by anyone." 
Petitioner has furnished the Court a booklet of numerous design patents for statuettes, bases for table lamps and similar articles for manufacture, quite indistinguishable in type from the copyrighted statuettes here in issue. Petitioner urges that overlapping of patent and copyright legislation so as to give an author or inventor a choice between patents and copyrights should not be permitted. We assume petitioner takes the position that protection for a statuette for industrial use can only be obtained by patent, if any protection can be given. 
As we have held the statuettes here involved copyrightable, we need not decide the question of their patentability. Though other courts have passed upon the issue as to whether allowance by the election of the author or patentee of one bars a grant of the other, we do not. We do hold that the patentability of the statuettes, fitted as lamps or unfitted, does not bar copyright as works of art. Neither the Copyright Statute nor any other says that, because a thing is patentable, it may not be copyrighted. We should not so hold. 
Unlike a patent, a copyright gives no exclusive right to the art disclosed; protection is given only to the expression of the idea -- not the idea itself. Thus, in Baker v. Selden, 101 U. S. 99, the Court held that a copyrighted book on a peculiar system of bookkeeping was not infringed by a similar book using a similar plan which achieved similar results where the alleged infringer made a different arrangement of the columns and used different headings. The distinction is illustrated in Fred Fisher, Inc. v. Dillingham, 298 F. 145, 151, when the court speaks of two men, each a perfectionist, independently making maps of the same territory. Though the maps are identical, each may obtain the exclusive right to make copies of his own particular map, and yet neither will infringe the other's copyright. 
Likewise, a copyrighted directory is not infringed by a similar directory which is the product of independent work. The copyright protects originality, rather than novelty or invention -- conferring only "the sole right of multiplying copies." Absent copying, there can be no infringement of copyright. Thus, respondents may not exclude others from using statuettes of human figures in table lamps; they may only prevent use of copies of their statuettes as such or as incorporated in some other article. Regulation § 202.8, supra, makes clear that artistic articles are protected in "form, but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects." See Stein v. Rosenthal, 103 F.Supp. 227, 231. The dichotomy of protection for the aesthetic is not beauty and utility, but art for the copyright and the invention of original and ornamental design for design patents. We find nothing in the copyright statute to support the argument that the intended use or use in industry of an article eligible for copyright bars or invalidates its registration. We do not read such a limitation into the copyright law. 
Nor do we think the subsequent registration of a work of art published as an element in a manufactured article, is a misuse of the copyright. This is not different from the registration of a statuette and its later embodiment in an industrial article. 
"The copyright law, like the patent statutes, makes reward to the owner a secondary consideration." United States v. Paramount Pictures, 334 U. S. 131, 334 U. S. 158. 
However, it is "intended definitely to grant valuable, enforceable rights to authors, publishers, etc., without burdensome requirements; 'to afford greater encouragement to the production of literary [or artistic] works of lasting benefit to the world.'" Washingtonian Pub. Co. v. Pearson, 306 U. S. 30, 306 U. S. 36. 
The economic philosophy behind the clause empowering Congress to grant patents and copyrights is the conviction that encouragement of individual effort by personal gain is the best way to advance public welfare through the talents of authors and inventors in "Science and useful Arts." Sacrificial days devoted to such creative activities deserve rewards commensurate with the services rendered. 

Chalkware Statue by Reglor of California


  1. Mazer argues that copyright can only protect unique works, and that commercial works can only be protected by design patent. Is that consistent with Bleistein? Do you think Stein could have obtained a design patent?
  2. The Court held that a statue could be protected by both copyright and design patent. Could that create any problems?
  3. How broad was the scope of Stein's copyright in the statue?
  4. Stein's competitors later created new statutes based on Stein's statues. Did those statues infringe on Stein's statue? What if Stein had a design patent?

Industrial Design

After the Supreme Court decided Mazer, Congress amended the Copyright Act to explain that:
"Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" include works of artistic craftsmanship insofar as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned; the design of a useful article, as defined in this section, shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such 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.
17 U.S.C. § 101.

Congress also explained that:
A “useful article” is an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information. An article that is normally a part of a useful article is considered a “useful article”.
17 U.S.C. § 101.

In other words, a "useful article" is a work that has both functional and aesthetic elements. A functional element is an element of work that makes useful as a tool. An aesthetic element is an element of a work that determines its appearance. Copyright can protect the aesthetic elements of a work, but cannot protect the functional elements.

The distinction between the functional and aesthetic elements of a work is a version of the idea/expression dichotomy.  The functional elements of a work are like ideas, which can only be protected by patent, and the aesthetic elements of a work are like expressions, which can only be protected by copyright. Of course, just like the idea/expression dichotomy, determining which elements of a work are functional and which are aesthetic is an ad hoc process. For example, the functional elements of a work may increase its aesthetic appeal.

Chair designed by Charles Eames

KitchenAid 5 Quart Stand Mixer designed by Egmont Arens

iPhone 5s designed by Sir Jonathan Ive


Under Section 101, copyright can protect an aesthetic element of a useful article only if it "can be identified separately from" and is "capable of existing independently of" the functional elements of the work. But what does that mean? Courts have generally held that an aesthetic element of a useful article can be protected by copyright if is either physically or conceptually severable from the functional elements of the useful article.

An aesthetic element of a useful article is physically separable if it can exist independently from the article. For example, in Mazer, the statutes were physically separable from the lamp because they could exist independently of the lamp as sculptures. By contrast, in Esquire, Inc. v. Ringer, 591 F.2d 796 (D.C. Cir. 1978), the court held that the overall shape of an outdoor lighting fixture was not physically separable from the fixture, and therefore could not be protected by copyright.

Many courts have held that copyright can also protect an aesthetic element of a useful article that is conceptually severable from the functional elements of the article. But what does it mean for an element to be conceptually severable?

In Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc., 632 F.2d 989 (2d Cir. 1980), the court held that the ornamental surface of a belt buckle was conceptually severable from the buckle itself, because the "primary ornamental aspect" of the buckle was "conceptually separable from [its] subsidiary utilitarian function."

Barry Kieselstein-Cord, Winchester belt buckle (1976)

By contrast, in Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Cover Corp., 773 F.2d 411 (2d Cir. 1985), the court held that the aesthetic elements of four human torso forms designed by Carol Barnhart were neither physically nor conceptually severable from their functional elements, even though the dress forms "had been used for purposes other than modeling clothes, e.g., as decorating props and signs without any clothing or accessories":
While this may indicate that the forms are "aesthetically satisfying and valuable," it is insufficient to show that the forms possess aesthetic or artistic features that are physically or conceptually separable from the forms' use as utilitarian objects to display clothes. On the contrary, to the extent the forms possess aesthetically pleasing features, even when these features are considered in the aggregate, they cannot be conceptualized as existing independently of their utilitarian function. 
themselves, considered "four human torso forms designed by Barnhart, each of which is life-size, without neck, arms, or a back, and made of expandable white styrene.

Chest Forms designed by Carol Barnhart

  1. Are Kieselstein-Cord and Barnhart consistent with each other?
  2. Which elements of Kieselstein-Cord's buckle are protected?
  3. Should it matter whether a useful object is used for multiple purposes?
Brandir International, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co., 834 F.2d 1142 (2d Cir. 1987)
OAKES, Circuit Judge: 
In passing the Copyright Act of 1976 Congress attempted to distinguish between protectable "works of applied art" and "industrial designs not subject to copyright protection." See H.R.Rep. No. 1476, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 54, reprinted in 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 5659, 5667 (hereinafter H.R.Rep. No. 1476). The courts, however, have had difficulty framing tests by which the fine line establishing what is and what is not copyrightable can be drawn. Once again we are called upon to draw such a line, this time in a case involving the "RIBBON Rack," a bicycle rack made of bent tubing that is said to have originated from a wire sculpture. (A photograph of the rack is contained in the appendix to this opinion.) We are also called upon to determine whether there is any trademark protection available to the manufacturer of the bicycle rack, appellant Brandir International, Inc. The Register of Copyright, named as a third-party defendant under the statute, 17 U.S.C. Sec. 411, but electing not to appear, denied copyrightability. In the subsequent suit brought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Charles S. Haight, Jr., Judge, the district court granted summary judgment on both the copyright and trademark claims to defendant Cascade Pacific Lumber Co., d/b/a Columbia Cascade Co., manufacturer of a similar bicycle rack. We affirm as to the copyright claim, but reverse and remand as to the trademark claim. 
Against the history of copyright protection well set out in the majority opinion in Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Cover Corp., 773 F.2d 411, 415-18 (2d Cir.1985), and in Denicola, Applied Art and Industrial Design: A Suggested Approach to Copyright in Useful Articles, 67 Minn.L.Rev. 707, 709-17 (1983), Congress adopted the Copyright Act of 1976. The "works of art" classification of the Copyright Act of 1909 was omitted and replaced by reference to "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works," 17 U.S.C. Sec. 102(a)(5). According to the House Report, the new category was intended to supply "as clear a line as possible between copyrightable works of applied art and uncopyrighted works of industrial design." H.R.Rep. No. 1476, at 55, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1976, p. 5668. The statutory definition of "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" states that "the design of a useful article, as defined in this section, shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such 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." 17 U.S.C. Sec. 101.1 The legislative history added gloss on the criteria of separate identity and independent existence in saying: 
On the other hand, although the shape of an industrial product may be aesthetically satisfying and valuable, the Committee's intention is not to offer it copyright protection under the bill. Unless the shape of an automobile, airplane, ladies' dress, food processor, television set, or any other industrial product contains some element that, physically or conceptually, can be identified as separable from the utilitarian aspects of that article, the design would not be copyrighted under the bill. 
H.R.Rep. No. 1476, at 55, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1976, p. 5668. 
As courts and commentators have come to realize, however, the line Congress attempted to draw between copyrightable art and noncopyrightable design "was neither clear nor new." Denicola, supra, 67 Minn.L.Rev. at 720. One aspect of the distinction that has drawn considerable attention is the reference in the House Report to "physically or conceptually " (emphasis added) separable elements. The District of Columbia Circuit in Esquire, Inc. v. Ringer, 591 F.2d 796, 803-04 (D.C.Cir.1978) (holding outdoor lighting fixtures ineligible for copyright), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 908, 99 S.Ct. 1217, 59 L.Ed.2d 456 (1979), called this an "isolated reference" and gave it no significance. Professor Nimmer, however, seemed to favor the observations of Judge Harold Leventhal in his concurrence in Esquire, who stated that "the overall legislative policy ... sustains the Copyright Office in its effort to distinguish between the instances where the aesthetic element is conceptually severable and the instances where the aesthetic element is inextricably interwoven with the utilitarian aspect of the article." 591 F.2d at 807; see 1 Nimmer on Copyright Sec. 2.08[B] at 2-93 to 2-96.2 (1986). But see Gerber, Book Review, 26 U.C.L.A.L.Rev. 925, 938-43 (1979) (criticizing Professor Nimmer's view on conceptual separability). Looking to the section 101 definition of works of artistic craftsmanship requiring that artistic features be "capable of existing independently of the utilitarian aspects," Professor Nimmer queries whether that requires physical as distinguished from conceptual separability, but answers his query by saying "[t]here is reason to conclude that it does not." See 1 Nimmer on Copyright Sec. 2.08[B] at 2-96.1. In any event, in Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc., 632 F.2d 989, 993 (2d Cir.1980), this court accepted the idea that copyrightability can adhere in the "conceptual" separation of an artistic element. Indeed, the court went on to find such conceptual separation in reference to ornate belt buckles that could be and were worn separately as jewelry. Kieselstein-Cord was followed in Norris Industries, Inc. v. International Telephone & Telegraph Corp., 696 F.2d 918, 923-24 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 818, 104 S.Ct. 78, 78 L.Ed.2d 89 (1983), although there the court upheld the Register's refusal to register automobile wire wheel covers, finding no "conceptually separable" work of art. See also Transworld Mfg. Corp. v. Al Nyman & Sons, Inc., 95 F.R.D. 95 (D.Del.1982) (finding conceptual separability sufficient to support copyright in denying summary judgment on copyrightability of eyeglass display cases). 
In Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Cover Corp., 773 F.2d 411 (2d Cir.1985), a divided panel of this circuit affirmed a district court grant of summary judgment of noncopyrightability of four life-sized, anatomically correct human torso forms. Carol Barnhart distinguished Kieselstein-Cord, but it surely did not overrule it. The distinction made was that the ornamented surfaces of the Kieselstein-Cord belt buckles "were not in any respect required by their utilitarian functions," but the features claimed to be aesthetic or artistic in the Carol Barnhart forms were "inextricably intertwined with the utilitarian feature, the display of clothes." 773 F.2d at 419. But cf. Animal Fair, Inc. v. Amfesco Indus., Inc., 620 F.Supp. 175, 186-88 (D.Minn.1985) (holding bear-paw design conceptually separable from the utilitarian features of a slipper), aff'd mem., 794 F.2d 678 (8th Cir.1986). As Judge Newman's dissent made clear, the Carol Barnhart majority did not dispute "that 'conceptual separability' is distinct from 'physical separability' and, when present, entitles the creator of a useful article to a copyright on its design." 773 F.2d at 420. 
"Conceptual separability" is thus alive and well, at least in this circuit. The problem, however, is determining exactly what it is and how it is to be applied. Judge Newman's illuminating discussion in dissent in Carol Barnhart, see 773 F.2d at 419-24, proposed a test that aesthetic features are conceptually separable if "the article ... stimulate[s] in the mind of the beholder a concept that is separate from the concept evoked by its utilitarian function." Id. at 422. This approach has received favorable endorsement by at least one commentator, W. Patry, Latman's The Copyright Law 43-45 (6th ed. 1986), who calls Judge Newman's test the "temporal displacement" test. It is to be distinguished from other possible ways in which conceptual separability can be tested, including whether the primary use is as a utilitarian article as opposed to an artistic work, whether the aesthetic aspects of the work can be said to be "primary," and whether the article is marketable as art, none of which is very satisfactory. But Judge Newman's test was rejected outright by the majority as "a standard so ethereal as to amount to a 'nontest' that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to administer or apply." 773 F.2d at 419 n. 5. 
Perhaps the differences between the majority and the dissent in Carol Barnhart might have been resolved had they had before them the Denicola article on Applied Art and Industrial Design: A Suggested Approach to Copyright in Useful Articles, supra. There, Professor Denicola points out that although the Copyright Act of 1976 was an effort " 'to draw as clear a line as possible,' " in truth "there is no line, but merely a spectrum of forms and shapes responsive in varying degrees to utilitarian concerns." 67 Minn.L.Rev. at 741. Denicola argues that "the statutory directive requires a distinction between works of industrial design and works whose origins lie outside the design process, despite the utilitarian environment in which they appear." He views the statutory limitation of copyrightability as "an attempt to identify elements whose form and appearance reflect the unconstrained perspective of the artist," such features not being the product of industrial design. Id. at 742. "Copyrightability, therefore, should turn on the relationship between the proffered work and the process of industrial design." Id. at 741. He suggests that "the dominant characteristic of industrial design is the influence of nonaesthetic, utilitarian concerns" and hence concludes that copyrightability "ultimately should depend on the extent to which the work reflects artistic expression uninhibited by functional considerations."2 Id. To state the Denicola test in the language of conceptual separability, 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. 
We believe that Professor Denicola's approach provides the best test for conceptual separability and, accordingly, adopt it here for several reasons. First, the approach is consistent with the holdings of our previous cases. In Kieselstein-Cord, for example, the artistic aspects of the belt buckles reflected purely aesthetic choices, independent of the buckles' function, while in Carol Barnhart the distinctive features of the torsos--the accurate anatomical design and the sculpted shirts and collars--showed clearly the influence of functional concerns. Though the torsos bore artistic features, it was evident that the designer incorporated those features to further the usefulness of the torsos as mannequins. Second, the test's emphasis on the influence of utilitarian concerns in the design process may help, as Denicola notes, to "alleviate the de facto discrimination against nonrepresentational art that has regrettably accompanied much of the current analysis." Id. at 745.3 Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we think Denicola's test will not be too difficult to administer in practice. The work itself will continue to give "mute testimony" of its origins. In addition, the parties will be required to present evidence relating to the design process and the nature of the work, with the trier of fact making the determination whether the aesthetic design elements are significantly influenced by functional considerations. 
Turning now to the facts of this case, we note first that Brandir contends, and its chief owner David Levine testified, that the original design of the RIBBON Rack stemmed from wire sculptures that Levine had created, each formed from one continuous undulating piece of wire. These sculptures were, he said, created and displayed in his home as a means of personal expression, but apparently were never sold or displayed elsewhere. He also created a wire sculpture in the shape of a bicycle and states that he did not give any thought to the utilitarian application of any of his sculptures until he accidentally juxtaposed the bicycle sculpture with one of the self-standing wire sculptures. It was not until November 1978 that Levine seriously began pursuing the utilitarian application of his sculptures, when a friend, G. Duff Bailey, a bicycle buff and author of numerous articles about urban cycling, was at Levine's home and informed him that the sculptures would make excellent bicycle racks, permitting bicycles to be parked under the overloops as well as on top of the underloops. Following this meeting, Levine met several times with Bailey and others, completing the designs for the RIBBON Rack by the use of a vacuum cleaner hose, and submitting his drawings to a fabricator complete with dimensions. The Brandir RIBBON Rack began being nationally advertised and promoted for sale in September 1979. 
In November 1982 Levine discovered that another company, Cascade Pacific Lumber Co., was selling a similar product. Thereafter, beginning in December 1982, a copyright notice was placed on all RIBBON Racks before shipment and on December 10, 1982, five copyright applications for registration were submitted to the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office refused registration by letter, stating that the RIBBON Rack did not contain any element that was "capable of independent existence as a copyrightable pictorial, graphic or sculptural work apart from the shape of the useful article." An appeal to the Copyright Office was denied by letter dated March 23, 1983, refusing registration on the above ground and alternatively on the ground that the design lacked originality, consisting of "nothing more than a familiar public domain symbol." In February 1984, after the denial of the second appeal of the examiner's decision, Brandir sent letters to customers enclosing copyright notices to be placed on racks sold prior to December 1982. 
Between September 1979 and August 1982 Brandir spent some $38,500 for advertising and promoting the RIBBON Rack, including some 85,000 pieces of promotional literature to architects and landscape architects. Additionally, since October 1982 Brandir has spent some $66,000, including full-, half-, and quarter-page advertisements in architectural magazines such as Landscape Architecture, Progressive Architecture, and Architectural Record, indeed winning an advertising award from Progressive Architecture in January 1983. The RIBBON Rack has been featured in Popular Science, Art and Architecture, and Design 384 magazines, and it won an Industrial Designers Society of America design award in the spring of 1980. In the spring of 1984 the RIBBON Rack was selected from 200 designs to be included among 77 of the designs exhibited at the Katonah Gallery in an exhibition entitled "The Product of Design: An Exploration of the Industrial Design Process," an exhibition that was written up in the New York Times. 
Sales of the RIBBON Rack from September 1979 through January 1985 were in excess of $1,367,000. Prior to the time Cascade Pacific began offering for sale its bicycle rack in August 1982, Brandir's sales were $436,000. The price of the RIBBON Rack ranges from $395 up to $2,025 for a stainless steel model and generally depends on the size of the rack, one of the most popular being the RB-7, selling for $485. 
Applying Professor Denicola's test to the RIBBON Rack, we find that the rack is not copyrightable. It seems clear that the form of the rack is influenced in significant measure by utilitarian concerns and thus any aesthetic elements cannot be said to be conceptually separable from the utilitarian elements. This is true even though the sculptures which inspired the RIBBON Rack may well have been--the issue of originality aside--copyrightable. 
Brandir argues correctly that a copyrighted work of art does not lose its protected status merely because it subsequently is put to a functional use. The Supreme Court so held in Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 74 S.Ct. 460, 98 L.Ed. 630 (1954), and Congress specifically intended to accept and codify Mazer in section 101 of the Copyright Act of 1976. See H.R.Rep. No. 1476 at 54-55. The district court thus erred in ruling that, whatever the RIBBON Rack's origins, Brandir's commercialization of the rack disposed of the issue of its copyrightability. 
Had Brandir merely adopted one of the existing sculptures as a bicycle rack, neither the application to a utilitarian end nor commercialization of that use would have caused the object to forfeit its copyrighted status. Comparison of the RIBBON Rack with the earlier sculptures, however, reveals that while the rack may have been derived in part from one of more "works of art," it is in its final form essentially a product of industrial design. In creating the RIBBON Rack, the designer has clearly adapted the original aesthetic elements to accommodate and further a utilitarian purpose. These altered design features of the RIBBON Rack, including the spacesaving, open design achieved by widening the upper loops to permit parking under as well as over the rack's curves, the straightened vertical elements that allow in- and above-ground installation of the rack, the ability to fit all types of bicycles and mopeds, and the heavy-gauged tubular construction of rustproof galvanized steel, are all features that combine to make for a safe, secure, and maintenance-free system of parking bicycles and mopeds. Its undulating shape is said in Progressive Architecture, January 1982, to permit double the storage of conventional bicycle racks. Moreover, the rack is manufactured from 2 3/8-inch standard steam pipe that is bent into form, the six-inch radius of the bends evidently resulting from bending the pipe according to a standard formula that yields bends having a radius equal to three times the nominal internal diameter of the pipe. 
Brandir argues that its RIBBON Rack can and should be characterized as a sculptural work of art within the minimalist art movement. Minimalist sculpture's most outstanding feature is said to be its clarity and simplicity, in that it often takes the form of geometric shapes, lines, and forms that are pure and free of ornamentation and void of association. As Brandir's expert put it, "The meaning is to be found in, within, around and outside the work of art, allowing the artistic sensation to be experienced as well as intellectualized." People who use Foley Square in New York City see in the form of minimalist art the "Tilted Arc," which is on the plaza at 26 Federal Plaza. Numerous museums have had exhibitions of such art, and the school of minimalist art has many admirers. 
It is unnecessary to determine whether to the art world the RIBBON Rack properly would be considered an example of minimalist sculpture. The result under the copyright statute is not changed. Using the test we have adopted, it is not enough that, to paraphrase Judge Newman, the rack may stimulate in the mind of the reasonable observer a concept separate from the bicycle rack concept. While the RIBBON Rack may be worthy of admiration for its aesthetic qualities alone, it remains nonetheless the product of industrial design. Form and function are inextricably intertwined in the rack, its ultimate design being as much the result of utilitarian pressures as aesthetic choices. Indeed, the visually pleasing proportions and symmetricality of the rack represent design changes made in response to functional concerns. Judging from the awards the rack has received, it would seem in fact that Brandir has achieved with the RIBBON Rack the highest goal of modern industrial design, that is, the harmonious fusion of function and aesthetics. Thus there remains no artistic element of the RIBBON Rack that can be identified as separate and "capable of existing independently, of, the utilitarian aspects of the article." Accordingly, we must affirm on the copyright claim. 
As to whether the configuration of Brandir's bicycle rack can be protected under either section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1125(a), or New York State unfair competition law, we are reminded that the design of a product itself may function as its packaging or protectable trade dress. See LeSportsac, Inc. v. K mart Corp., 754 F.2d 71, 75 (2d Cir.1985). The district court dismissed Brandir's claims, saying that its analysis of the copyright issue was sufficient to dispose of the Lanham Act and common law claims. The court stated "the design feature of the Ribbon Racks is clearly dictated by the function to be performed, namely, holding up bicycles. If the steam pipes were not bent into the design, but instead remained flat, the bicycles would not stand up, they would fall down." But as Judge Newman noted in his dissent in Carol Barnhart, 773 F.2d at 420 n. 1, the principle of conceptual separability of functional design elements in copyright law is different from the somewhat similar principle of functionality as developed in trademark law. For trademark purposes, he pointed out, a design feature "has been said to be functional if it is 'essential to the use or purpose of the article' or 'affects the cost or quality of the article.' " Id. (quoting Inwood Laboratories, Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 850 n. 10, 102 S.Ct. 2182, 2187 n. 10, 72 L.Ed.2d 606 (1982)); see LeSportsac, Inc. v. K mart Corp., 754 F.2d at 75-76 (trade dress of a product is eligible for protection if it has acquired a secondary meaning and is nonfunctional).4 
Here, the district court limited its inquiry to determining whether portions of the RIBBON Rack performed the function of a bicycle rack. But the fact that a design feature performs a function does not make it essential to the performance of that function; it is instead the absence of alternative constructions performing the same function that renders the feature functional. Thus, the true test of functionality is not whether the feature in question performs a function, but whether the feature "is dictated by the functions to be performed," Warner Bros. Inc. v. Gay Toys, Inc., 724 F.2d 327, 331 (2d Cir.1983) (quoted in LeSportsac, Inc. v. K mart Corp., 754 F.2d at 76), as evidenced by available alternative constructions. See Metro Kane Imports, Ltd. v. Rowoco, Inc., 618 F.Supp. 273, 275-76 (S.D.N.Y.1985), aff'd mem., 800 F.2d 1128 (2d Cir.1986) (finding high-tech design of orange juice squeezer not dictated by function to be performed as there was no evidence that design permitted juicer to be manufactured at lower price or with altered performance). There are numerous alternative bicycle rack constructions. The nature, price, and utility of these constructions are material issues of fact not suitable for determination by summary judgment. For example, while it is true that the materials used by Brandir are standard-size pipes, we have no way of knowing whether the particular size and weight of the pipes used is the best, the most economical, or the only available size and weight pipe in the marketplace. We would rather think the opposite might be the case. So, too, with the dimension of the bends being dictated by a standard formula corresponding to the pipe size; it could be that there are many standard radii and that the particular radius of Brandir's RIBBON Rack actually required new tooling. This issue of functionality on remand should be viewed in terms of bicycle racks generally and not one-piece undulating bicycle racks specifically. See id. at 330-32; see also In re DC Comics, Inc., 689 F.2d 1042, 1045 (C.C.P.A.1982) (dolls generally and not Superman dolls are the class by which functionality is determined). We reverse and remand as to the trademark and unfair competition claims. 
Judgment affirmed as to the copyright claim; reversed and remanded as to the trademark and unfair competition claims. 
Winter, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part: 
Although I concur in the reversal of the district court's grant of summary judgment on the trademark and unfair competition claims, I respectfully dissent from the majority's discussion and disposition of the copyright claim. 
My colleagues, applying an adaptation of Professor Denicola's test, hold that the aesthetic elements of the design of a useful article are not conceptually separable from its utilitarian aspects if "[f]orm and function are inextricably intertwined" in the article, and "its ultimate design [is] as much the result of utilitarian pressures as aesthetic choices." Applying that test to the instant matter, they observe that the dispositive fact is that "in creating the Ribbon Rack, [Levine] has clearly adapted the original aesthetic elements to accommodate and further a utilitarian purpose." (emphasis added). The grounds of my disagreement are that: (1) my colleagues' adaptation of Professor Denicola's test diminishes the statutory concept of "conceptual separability" to the vanishing point; and (2) their focus on the process or sequence followed by the particular designer makes copyright protection depend upon largely fortuitous circumstances concerning the creation of the design in issue. 
With regard to "conceptual separability," my colleagues deserve considerable credit for their efforts to reconcile Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Cover Corp., 773 F.2d 411 (2d Cir.1985) with Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc., 632 F.2d 989 (2d Cir.1980). In my view, these cases are not reconcilable. Carol Barnhart paid only lip service to the fact that the "conceptual separability" of an article's aesthetic utilitarian aspects may render the design of a "useful article" a copyrightable "sculptural work." 17 U.S.C. Sec. 101 (1982). Actually, the Carol Barnhart majority applied a test of physical separability. They thus stated: 
What distinguishes [the Kieselstein Cord ] buckles from the Barnhart forms is that the ornamented surfaces of the buckles were not in any respect required by their utilitarian functions; the artistic and aesthetic features could thus be conceived of as having been added to, or superimposed upon, an otherwise utilitarian article. The unique artistic design was wholly unnecessary to performance of the utilitarian function. In the case of the Barnhart forms, on the other hand, the features claimed to be aesthetic or artistic, e.g., the life-size configuration of the breasts and the width of the shoulders are inextricably intertwined with the utilitarian feature, the display of clothes. 
773 F.2d at 419 (emphasis added). In contrast, Kieselstein-Cord focused on the fact that the belt buckles at issue could be perceived as objects other than belt buckles: 
We see in appellant's belt buckles conceptually separable sculptural elements, as apparently have the buckles' wearers who have used them as ornamentation for parts of the body other than the waist. 
632 F.2d at 993. 
My colleagues' adaptation of the Denicola test tracks the Carol Barnhart approach, whereas I would adopt that taken in Kieselstein-Cord, which allows for the copyrightability of the aesthetic elements of useful articles even if those elements simultaneously perform utilitarian functions. The latter approach received its fullest elaboration in Judge Newman's dissent in Carol Barnhart, where he explained that "[f]or the [artistic] design features to be 'conceptually separate' from the utilitarian aspects of the useful article that embodies the design, the article must stimulate in the mind of the beholder a concept that is separate from the concept evoked by its utilitarian function." 773 F.2d at 422 (Newman, J., dissenting). 
In other words, the relevant question is whether the design of a useful article, however intertwined with the article's utilitarian aspects, causes an ordinary reasonable observer to perceive an aesthetic concept not related to the article's use. The answer to this question is clear in the instant case because any reasonable observer would easily view the Ribbon Rack as an ornamental sculpture. Indeed, there is evidence of actual confusion over whether it is strictly ornamental in the refusal of a building manager to accept delivery until assured by the buyer that the Ribbon Rack was in fact a bicycle rack. Moreover, Brandir has received a request to use the Ribbon Rack as environmental sculpture, and has offered testimony of art experts who claim that the Ribbon Rack may be valued solely for its artistic features. As one of those experts observed: "If one were to place a Ribbon Rack on an island without access, or in a park and surround the work with a barrier, ... its status as a work of art would be beyond dispute." 
My colleagues also allow too much to turn upon the process or sequence of design followed by the designer of the Ribbon Rack. They thus suggest that copyright protection would have been accorded "had Brandir merely adopted ... as a bicycle rack" an enlarged version of one of David Levine's original sculptures rather than one that had wider upper loops and straightened vertical elements. I cannot agree that copyright protection for the Ribbon Rack turns on whether Levine serendipitously chose the final design of the Ribbon Rack during his initial sculptural musings or whether the original design had to be slightly modified to accommodate bicycles. Copyright protection, which is intended to generate incentives for designers by according property rights in their creations, should not turn on purely fortuitous events. For that reason, the Copyright Act expressly states that the legal test is how the final article is perceived, not how it was developed through various stages. It thus states in pertinent part: 
the design of a useful article ... shall be considered a ... sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such design incorporates ... sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article. 
17 U.S.C. Sec. 101 (1982) (emphasis added). 
I therefore dissent from the decision so far as it relates to copyrightability but concur in its discussion and holding as to the trademark and unfair competition claims.

RIBBON Bike Rack by Brandir

  1. Do you agree with the court's conclusion that the aesthetic elements of the RIBBON Bike Rack are not conceptually severable from its functional elements?
  2. Judge Winter's dissent argues that Kieselstein-Cord and Barnhart cannot be reconciled. Do you agree?
  3. Should the courts apply a physical severability test, a conceptual severability test, or both?
  4. Why did Congress exclude functional elements of useful objects from copyright protection?
  5. Can copyright protect the functional elements of useful objects?
  6. Why do the creators of useful objects want copyright to protect the design of those objects?
  7. What would happen if copyright did not protect the aesthetic elements of useful objects?

1 comment:

  1. dear,
    Do you want to start your own business? Are you in need of a website? Choosing a web designer can be a minefield. Read on for the top 7 points you need to check on a web designer's website before handing over any money.
    See more at:Logo Design Massachusetts


Creative Commons License
Copyright Law Casebook by Brian L. Frye is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at