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Brandir International, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co


    Citation. Brandir Int’l, Inc. v. Cascade Pac. Lumber Co., 834 F.2d 1142, 1987 U.S. App. LEXIS 15867, 5 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1089, Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P26,200 (2d Cir. N.Y. Dec. 2, 1987)

    Brief Fact Summary.Brandir International, Inc. (Plaintiff) sold a wire sculpture as a bicycle rack that by was deemed not to be copyrightable because it was an industrial design not subject to copyright protection.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Copyrightability ultimately depends on the extent to which the work reflects artistic expression not restricted by functional considerations.

    Facts. After seeing undulating wire sculptures, a friend suggested to the artist, the chief owner of Brandir International, Inc. (Brandir) (Plaintiff), that the sculptures would make excellent bicycle racks.  Plaintiff then started to manufacture and sell bike racks derived in part from one or more of the works of art.  When Plaintiff discovered that Cascade Pacific Lumber (Defendant) was selling a similar product, it included a copyright notice with its products and applied to the Copyright Office for registration.  The Copyright Office denied the applications for registration as the bicycle racks did not include any element that was capable of independent existence as a copyrightability, and the district court granted summary judgment on the copyright claim.  Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Should copyrightability ultimately depend on the extent to which the work reflects artistic expression not restricted by functional considerations?

    Held. (Oakes, J.)  Yes.  Copyrightability ultimately should depend on the extent to which the work reflects artistic expression not restricted by functional considerations.  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.  The final form of the bicycle rack sold by Brandir (Plaintiff) is basically a 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.  The original aesthetic elements have clearly been adapted to accommodate and further a utilitarian purpose.  Affirmed.

    Concurrence. (Winter, J.)  The relevant question should be 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 this case since any reasonable observer would easily see the bicycle rack as an ornamental sculpture.  The Copyright Act expressly states that the legal test is how the final article is perceived, not how it was developed at various stages along the way.

    Discussion. The majority in this case adopted a test suggested by Professor Denicola in his article “Applied Art and Industrial Design,” 67 Min. L. Rev. 707 (1983).  The Winter dissent suggested applying a different test and another dissent suggested using a temporal displacement test.  In general, if a work is a useful article, the artistic elements have to be separate in order for the work to be copyrightable.


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