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“Probative Similarity” and “Substantial Similarity”
  • 1 Three Boys Music v. Bolton (2000)

    1

    212 F.3d 477 (9th Cir. 2000)

    2
    THREE BOYS MUSIC CORPORATION, Plaintiff-Appellee,
    v.
    MICHAEL BOLTON, individually and d/b/a MR. BOLTON'S MUSIC, INC.; ANDREW GOLDMARK; NON-PAREIL MUSIC, INC.; WARNER-CHAPPELL MUSIC LIMITED; WARNER TAMERLANE PUBLISHING CORP.; WB MUSIC CORP.; and SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT, INC., Defendants-Appellants.
    3

    Nos. 97-55150, 97-55154

    4

    UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

    5

    Argued and Submitted October 5, 1999
    Filed May 9, 2000

    6

    [480] COUNSEL: Robert G. Sugarman, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, New York, New York, for the defendants-appellants.

    7

    Russell J. Frackman, Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, Los Angeles, California, for the defendant-appellant.

    8

    Pierce O'Donnell, O'Donnell & Shaeffer, Los Angeles, California, for the plaintiff-appellee.

    9

    John P. McNicholas, McNicholas & McNicholas, Los Angeles, California, for the plaintiff-appellee.

    10

    Louis Petrich, Leopold, Petrich, & Smith, Los Angeles, California, for amici, Recording Industry Association of America, Inc. and Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

    11

    Appeals from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; Lourdes G. Baird, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-92-01177 LGB

    12

    Before: Betty B. Fletcher, Dorothy W. Nelson, and Melvin Brunetti, Circuit

    13

    Judges.

    14
    OPINION
    15

    D.W. NELSON, Circuit Judge:

    16

    In 1994, a jury found that Michael Bolton's 1991 pop hit, "Love Is a Wonderful Thing," infringed on the copyright of a 1964 Isley Brothers' song of the same name. The district court denied Bolton's motion for a new trial and affirmed the jury's award of $5.4 million.

    17

    Bolton, his co-author, Andrew Goldmark, and their record companies ("Sony Music") appeal, arguing that the district court erred in finding that: (1) sufficient evidence supported the jury's finding that the appellants had access to the Isley Brothers' song; (2) sufficient evidence supported the jury's finding that the songs were substantially similar; (3) subject matter jurisdiction existed based on the Isley Brothers registering a complete copy of the song; (4) sufficient evidence supported the jury's attribution of profits to the infringing elements of the song; (5) Sony Music could not deduct its tax liability; and (6) the appellants' motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence was unwarranted.

    18

    We affirm.

    19
    I. BACKGROUND
    20

    The Isley Brothers, one of this country's most well-known rhythm and blues groups, have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They helped define the soul sound of the 1960s with songs such as "Shout," "Twist and Shout," and "This Old Heart of Mine," and they mastered the funky beats of the 1970s with songs such as "Who's That Lady, " "Fight the Power," and "It's Your Thing." In 1964, the Isley Brothers wrote and recorded "Love is a Wonderful Thing " for United Artists. The Isley Brothers received a copyright for "Love is a Wonderful Thing" from the Register of Copyrights on February 6, 1964. The following year, they switched to the famous Motown label and had three top-100 hits including "This Old Heart of Mine."

    21

    Hoping to benefit from the Isley Brothers' Motown success, United Artists released "Love is a Wonderful Thing" in 1966. The song was not released on an album, only on a 45record as a single. Several industry publications predicted that "Love is a Wonderful Thing" would be a hit -"Cash Box" on August 27, 1966, "Gavin Report" on August 26, 1966, and "Billboard" on September 10, 1966. On September 17, 1966, Billboard listed "Love is a Wonderful Thing" at number 110 in a chart titled "Bubbling Under the Hot 100. " The song was never listed on any other Top 100 charts. In 1991, the Isley Brothers' "Love is a Wonderful Thing" was released [481] on compact disc. See Isley Brothers, The Isley Brothers -The Complete UA Sessions, (EMI 1991).

    22

    Michael Bolton is a singer/songwriter who gained popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s by reviving the soul sound of the 1960s. Bolton has orchestrated this soul-music revival in part by covering old songs such as Percy Sledge's "When a Man Love a Woman" and Otis Redding's"(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay." Bolton also has written his own hit songs. In early 1990, Bolton and Goldmark wrote a song called "Love Is a Wonderful Thing." Bolton released it as a single in April 1991, and as part of Bolton's album,"Time, Love and Tenderness." Bolton's "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" finished 1991 at number 49 on Billboard's year-end pop chart.

    23

    On February 24, 1992, Three Boys Music Corporation filed a copyright infringement action for damages against the appellants under 17 U.S.C. SS 101 et seq. (1988). The parties agreed to a trifurcated trial. On April 25, 1994, in the first phase, the jury determined that the appellants had infringed the Isley Brothers' copyright. At the end of second phase five days later, the jury decided that Bolton's "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" accounted for 28 percent of the profits from "Time, Love and Tenderness." The jury also found that 66 percent of the profits from commercial uses of the song could be attributed to the inclusion of infringing elements. On May 9, 1994, the district court entered judgment in favor of the Isley Brothers based on the first two phases.

    24

    The deadline for post-trial motions was May 25, 1994. On that day, the appellants filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law and a motion for new trial. The district court denied the motions on August 11, 1994. On June 8, 1994, the appellants filed a second motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence on the issue of copyright ownership. The district court dismissed this motion as untimely.

    25

    On December 5, 1996, the district court adopted the findings of the Special Master's Amended Report about the allocation of damages (third phase). In the final judgment entered against the appellants, the district court ordered Sony Music to pay $4,218,838; Bolton to pay $932,924; Goldmark to pay $220,785; and their music publishing companies to pay $75,900. They timely appealed.

    26
    II. DISCUSSION
    27

    Proof of copyright infringement is often highly circumstantial, particularly in cases involving music. A copyright plaintiff must prove (1) ownership of the copyright; and (2) infringement -that the defendant copied protected elements of the plaintiff's work. See Smith v. Jackson , 84 F.3d 1213, 1218 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Absent direct evidence of copying, proof of infringement involves fact-based showings that the defendant had "access" to the plaintiff's work and that the two works are "substantially similar." Id.

    28

    Given the difficulty of proving access and substantial similarity, appellate courts have been reluctant to reverse jury verdicts in music cases. See, e.g., id. at 1221 (affirming a jury's verdict for the defendants in a copyright infringement case involving Michael Jackson and other musicians); Gaste v. Kaiserman, 863 F.2d 1061, 1071 (2d Cir. 1988) (affirming a jury's damages award against a defendant in a music copyright infringement case). Judge Newman's opinion in Gaste nicely articulated the proper role for an appeals court in reviewing a jury verdict:

    29

    The guiding principle in deciding whether to overturn a jury verdict for insufficiency of the evidence is whether the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable men could have reached.

    30

    Id. at 1066 (internal quotations omitted). In Arnstein v. Porter, the seminal case [482] about musical copyright infringement, Judge Jerome Frank wrote:

    31

    Each of these two issues - copying and improper appropriation - is an issue of fact. If there is a trial, the conclusions on those issues of the trier of the facts - of the judge if he sat without a jury, or of the jury if there was a jury trial - bind this court on appeal, provided the evidence supports those findings, regardless of whether we would ourselves have reached the same conclusions.

    32

    Arnstein v. Porter, 154 F.2d 464, 469 (2d Cir. 1946).

    33

    As a general matter, the standard for reviewing jury verdicts is whether they are supported by "substantial evidence" -that is, such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Poppell v. City of San Diego, 149 F.3d 951, 962 (9th Cir. 1998). The credibility of witnesses is an issue for the jury and is generally not subject to appellate review. See Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 856 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 120 S. Ct. 614 (1999).

    34

    We affirm the jury's verdict in this case in light of the standard of review and copyright law's "guiding principles." Although we will address each of the appellant's arguments in turn, we focus on access because it is the most difficult issue in this case. Our decision is predicated on judicial deference -finding that the law has been properly applied in this case, viewing the facts most favorably to the appellees, and not substituting our judgment for that of the jury.

    35
    A. Access
    36

    Proof of access requires "an opportunity to view or to copy plaintiff's work." Sid and Marty Krofft Television Prods., Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1157, 1172 (9th Cir. 1977). This is often described as providing a "reasonable opportunity" or "reasonable possibility" of viewing the plaintiff's work. 4 Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright, S 13.02[A], at 13-19 (1999); Jason v. Fonda, 526 F. Supp. 774, 775 (C.D. Cal. 1981), aff'd , 698 F.2d 966 (9th Cir. 1983). We have defined reasonable access as "more than a `bare possibility.' " Jason, 698 F.2d at 967. Nimmer has elaborated on our definition: "Of course, reasonable opportunity as here used, does not encompass any bare possibility in the sense that anything is possible. Access may not be inferred through mere speculation or conjecture. There must be a reasonable possibility of viewing the plaintiff's work -not a bare possibility." 4 Nimmer,S 13.02[A], at 1319. "At times, distinguishing a `bare' possibility from a `reasonable' possibility will present a close question. " Id. at 1320.

    37

    Circumstantial evidence of reasonable access is proven in one of two ways: (1) a particular chain of events is established between the plaintiff's work and the defendant's access to that work (such as through dealings with a publisher or record company), or (2) the plaintiff's work has been widely disseminated. See 4 Nimmer, S 13.02[A], at 13-20-13-21; 2 Paul Goldstein, Copyright: Principles, Law, and Practice S 8.3.1.1., at 90-91 (1989). Goldstein remarks that in music cases the "typically more successful route to proving access requires the plaintiff to show that its work was widely disseminated through sales of sheet music, records, and radio performances." 2 Goldstein, S 8.3.1.1, at 91. Nimmer, however, cautioned that "[c]oncrete cases will pose difficult judgments as to where along the access spectrum a given exploitation falls." 4 Nimmer, S 13.02[A], at 13-22.

    38

    Proof of widespread dissemination is sometimes accompanied by a theory that copyright infringement of a popular song was subconscious. Subconscious copying has been accepted since Learned Hand embraced it in a 1924 music infringement case: "Everything registers somewhere in our memories, and no one can tell what [483] may evoke it . . . . Once it appears that another has in fact used the copyright as the source of this production, he has invaded the author's rights. It is no excuse that in so doing his memory has played him a trick." Fred Fisher, Inc. v. Dillingham, 298 F. 145, 147-48 (S.D.N.Y. 1924). In Fred Fisher, Judge Hand found that the similarities between the songs "amount[ed] to identity" and that the infringement had occurred "probably unconsciously, what he had certainly often heard only a short time before." Id. at 147.

    39

    In modern cases, however, the theory of subconscious copying has been applied to songs that are more remote in time. ABKCO Music, Inc v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd., 722 F.2d 988 (2d Cir. 1983) is the most prominent example. In ABKCO, the Second Circuit affirmed a jury's verdict that former Beatle George Harrison, in writing the song "My Sweet Lord," subconsciously copied The Chiffons' "He's So Fine," which was released six years earlier. See id. at 997, 999. Harrison admitted hearing "He's So Fine" in 1963, when it was number one on the Billboard charts in the United States for five weeks and one of the top 30 hits in England for seven weeks. See id. at 998. The court found:"the evidence, standing alone, `by no means compels the conclusion that there was access . . . it does not compel the conclusion that there was not.' " Id. (quoting Heim v. Universal Pictures Co., 154 F.2d 480, 487 (2d Cir. 1946)). In ABKCO, however, the court found that "the similarity was so striking and where access was found, the remoteness of that access provides no basis for reversal." Id. Furthermore, "the mere lapse of a considerable period of time between the moment of access and the creation of defendant's work does not preclude a finding of copying." 4 Nimmer, S 13.02[A], at 13-20 (citing ABKCO, 722 F.2d at 997-98).

    40

    The Isley Brothers' access argument was based on a theory of widespread dissemination and subconscious copying. They presented evidence supporting four principal ways that Bolton and Goldmark could have had access to the Isley Brothers' "Love is a Wonderful Thing":

    41

    (1) Bolton grew up listening to groups such as the Isley Brothers and singing their songs. In 1966, Bolton and Goldmark were 13 and 15, respectively, growing up in Connecticut. Bolton testified that he had been listening to rhythm and blues music by black singers since he was 10 or 11,"appreciated a lot of Black singers," and as a youth was the lead singer in a band that performed "covers" of popular songs by black singers. Bolton also testified that his brother had a "pretty good record collection."

    42

    (2) Three disk jockeys testified that the Isley Brothers' song was widely disseminated on radio and television stations where Bolton and Goldmark grew up. First, Jerry Blavitt testified that the Isley Brothers' "Love is a Wonderful Thing" was played five or six times during a 13-week period on the television show, "The Discophonic Scene," which he said aired in Philadelphia, New York, and Hartford-New Haven. Blavitt also testified that he played the song two to three times a week as a disk jockey in Philadelphia and that the station is still playing the song today. Second, Earl Rodney Jones testified that he played the song a minimum of four times a day during an eight to 14 to 24 week period on WVON radio in Chicago, and that the station is still playing the song today. Finally, Jerry Bledsoe testified that he played the song on WUFO radio in Buffalo, and WWRL radio in New York was playing the song in New York in 1967 when he went there. Bledsoe also testified that he played the song twice on a television show, "Soul," which aired in New York and probably in New Haven, Connecticut, where Bolton lived.

    43

    (3) Bolton confessed to being a huge fan of the Isley Brothers and a collector of their music. Ronald Isley testified that when Bolton saw Isley at the Lou Rawls United Negro College Fund Benefit concert in 1988, Bolton said,"I know this guy.[484] I go back with him. I have all his stuff. " Angela Winbush, Isley's wife, testified about that meeting that Bolton said, "This man needs no introduction. I know everything he's done."

    44

    (4) Bolton wondered if he and Goldmark were copying a song by another famous soul singer. Bolton produced a work tape attempting to show that he and Goldmark independently created their version of "Love Is a Wonderful Thing." On that tape of their recording session, Bolton asked Goldmark if the song they were composing was Marvin Gaye's "Some Kind of Wonderful."[1] The district court, in affirming the jury's verdict, wrote about Bolton's Marvin Gaye remark:

    45

    This statement suggests that Bolton was contemplating the possibility that the work he and Goldmark were creating, or at least a portion of it, belonged to someone else, but that Bolton wasn't sure who it belonged to. A reasonable jury can infer that Bolton mistakenly attributed the work to Marvin Gaye, when in reality Bolton was subconsciously drawing on Plaintiff's song.

    46

    The appellants contend that the Isley Brothers' theory of access amounts to a "twenty-five-years-after-the-factsubconscious copying claim." Indeed, this is a more attenuated case of reasonable access and subconscious copying than ABKCO. In this case, the appellants never admitted hearing the Isley Brothers' "Love is a Wonderful Thing. " That song never topped the Billboard charts or even made the top 100 for a single week. The song was not released on an album or compact disc until 1991, a year after Bolton and Goldmark wrote their song. Nor did the Isley Brothers ever claim that Bolton's and Goldmark's song is so "strikingly similar" to the Isley Brothers' that proof of access is presumed and need not be proven.

    47

    Despite the weaknesses of the Isley Brothers' theory of reasonable access, the appellants had a full opportunity to present their case to the jury. Three rhythm and blues experts (including legendary Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier of Holland-Dozier-Holland fame) testified that they never heard of the Isley Brothers' "Love is a Wonderful Thing." Furthermore, Bolton produced copies of "TV Guide" from 1966 suggesting that the television shows playing the song never aired in Connecticut. Bolton also pointed out that 129 songs called "Love is a Wonderful Thing" are registered with the Copyright Office, 85 of them before 1964.

    48

    The Isley Brothers' reasonable access arguments are not without merit. Teenagers are generally avid music listeners. It is entirely plausible that two Connecticut teenagers obsessed with rhythm and blues music could remember an Isley Brothers' song that was played on the radio and television for a few weeks, and subconsciously copy it twenty years later. Furthermore, Ronald Isley testified that when they met, Bolton said, "I have all his stuff." Finally, as the district court pointed out, Bolton's remark about Marvin Gaye and "Some Kind of Wonderful" indicates that Bolton believed he may have been copying someone else's song.

    49

    Finally, with regard to access, we are mindful of Judge Frank's words of caution in Arnstein v. Porter: "The judge characterized plaintiff's story as `fantastic'; and in the light of the references in his opinion to defendant's deposition, the judge obviously accepted the defendant's denial of access and copying . . . . [Y]et plaintiff's credibility, even as to those improbabilities, should be left to the jury." Arnstein, 154 F.2d at 469. In this case, Judge Baird heeded Judge Frank's admonition:

    50

    [T]his Court is not in a position to find that the only conclusion that a reasonable jury could have reached is that [485] Defendants did not have access to Plaintiff's song. One must remember that the issue this Court must address is not whether Plaintiff has proven access by a preponderance of evidence, but whether reasonable minds could find that Defendants had a reasonable opportunity to have heard Plaintiff's song before they created their own song.

    51

    Although we might not reach the same conclusion as the jury regarding access, we find that the jury's conclusion about access is supported by substantial evidence. We are not establishing a new standard for access in copyright cases; we are merely saying that we will not disturb the jury's factual and credibility determinations on this issue.

    52
    B. Substantial Similarity
    53

    Under our case law, substantial similarity is inextricably linked to the issue of access. In what is known as the "inverse ratio rule," we "require a lower standard of proof of substantial similarity when a high degree of access is shown." Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218 (citing Shaw v. Lindheim, 919 F.2d 1353, 1361-62 (9th Cir. 1990); Krofft, 562 F.2d at 1172). Furthermore, in the absence of any proof of access, a copyright plaintiff can still make out a case of infringement by showing that the songs were "strikingly similar." See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1220; Baxter v. MCA, Inc., 812 F.2d 421, 423, 424 n.2 (9th Cir. 1987).

    54

    Proof of the substantial similarity is satisfied by a twopart test of extrinsic similarity and intrinsic similarity. See Krofft, 562 F.2d at 1164. Initially, the extrinsic test requires that the plaintiff identify concrete elements based on objective criteria. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218; Shaw, 919 F.2d at 1356. The extrinsic test often requires analytical dissection of a work and expert testimony. See Apple Computer, Inc v. Microsoft Corp., 35 F.3d 1435, 1442 (9th Cir. 1994). Once the extrinsic test is satisfied, the factfinder applies the intrinsic test. The intrinsic test is subjective and asks "whether the ordinary, reasonable person would find the total concept and feel of the works to be substantially similar." Pasillas v. McDonald's Corp., 927 F.2d 440, 442 (9th Cir. 1991) (internal quotations omitted).

    55

    We will not second-guess the jury's application of the intrinsic test. See Krofft 562 F.3d at 1166 ("Since the intrinsic test for expression is uniquely suited for determination by the trier of fact, this court must be reluctant to reverse it.") (citations omitted). Furthermore, we will not reverse factual determinations regarding the extrinsic test absent a clearly erroneous application of the law. See id. It is well settled that a jury may find a combination of unprotectible elements to be protectible under the extrinsic test because " `the over-all impact and effect indicate substantial appropriation.' " Id. at 1169 (quoting Malkin v. Dubinsky, 146 F. Supp. 111, 114 (S.D.N.Y. 1956)).

    56
    1. Evidence of Substantial Similarity
    57

    Bolton and Goldmark argue that there was insufficient evidence of substantial similarity because the Isley Brothers' expert musicologist, Dr. Gerald Eskelin, failed to show that there was copying of a combination of unprotectible elements. On the contrary, Eskelin testified that the two songs shared a combination of five unprotectible elements: (1) the title hook phrase (including the lyric, rhythm, and pitch); (2) the shifted cadence; (3) the instrumental figures; (4) the verse/chorus relationship; and (5) the fade ending. Although the appellants presented testimony from their own expert musicologist, Anthony Ricigliano, he conceded that there were similarities between the two songs and that he had not found the combination of unprotectible elements in the Isley Brothers' song "anywhere in the prior art." The jury heard testimony from both of these experts and "found infringement based on a unique compilation of those elements." We refuse to interfere with the jury's credibility determination, nor do we find [486] that the jury's finding of substantial similarity was clearly erroneous.

    58
    2. Independent Creation
    59

    Bolton and Goldmark also contend that their witnesses rebutted the Isley Brothers' prima facie case of copyright infringement with evidence of independent creation. By establishing reasonable access and substantial similarity, a copyright plaintiff creates a presumption of copying. The burden shifts to the defendant to rebut that presumption through proof of independent creation. See Granite Music Corp. v. United Artists Corp., 532 F.2d 718, 721 (9th Cir. 1976).

    60

    The appellants' case of independent creation hinges on three factors: the work tape demonstrating how Bolton and Goldmark created their song, Bolton and Goldmark's history of songwriting, and testimony that their arranger, Walter Afanasieff, contributed two of five unprotectible elements that they allegedly copied. The jury, however, heard the testimony of Bolton, Goldmark, Afanasieff, and Ricigliano about independent creation. The work tape revealed evidence that Bolton may have subconsciously copied a song that he believed to be written by Marvin Gaye. Bolton and Goldmark's history of songwriting presents no direct evidence about this case. And Afanasieff's contributions to Bolton and Goldmark's song were described by the appellants' own expert as "very common." Once again, we refuse to disturb the jury's determination about independent creation. The substantial evidence of copying based on access and substantial similarity was such that a reasonable juror could reject this defense.

    61
    3. Inverse-Ratio Rule
    62

    Although this may be a weak case of access and a circumstantial case of substantial similarity, neither issue warrants reversal of the jury's verdict. An amicus brief on behalf of the recording and motion picture industries warns against watering down the requirements for musical copyright infringement. This case presents no such danger. The Ninth Circuit's inverse-ratio rule requires a lesser showing of substantial similarity if there is a strong showing of access. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. In this case, there was a weak showing of access. We have never held, however, that the inverse ratio rule says a weak showing of access requires a stronger showing of substantial similarity. Nor are we redefining the test of substantial similarity here; we merely find that there was substantial evidence from which the jury could find access and substantial similarity in this case.

    63
    C. Sufficiency of the Deposit Copy
    64

    The appellants argue that the district court did not have jurisdiction over this case because the Isley Brothers failed to register a complete copy of the song upon which the lawsuit was based. Although the 1909 Copyright Act requires the owner to deposit a "complete copy" of the work with the copyright office, our definition of a "complete copy" is broad and deferential: "Absent intent to defraud and prejudice, inaccuracies in copyright registrations do not bar actions for infringement." Harris v. Emus Records Corp. , 734 F.2d 1329, 1335 (9th Cir. 1984) (citations omitted).

    65

    Bolton and Goldmark argue that in 1964 the Isley Brothers deposited sheet music ("deposit copy") of "Love is a Wonderful Thing" that differed from the recorded version of the song. Furthermore, they claimed that the deposit copy does not include the majority of the musical elements that were part of the infringement claim. At trial, the Isley Brothers' expert, Dr. Eskelin, testified that the deposit copy included all of the song's essential elements such as the title hook, chorus, and pitches. Dr. Eskelin even played the deposit copy for the jury on the keyboard. We refuse to disturb the jury's finding that the Isley Brothers deposited a "complete copy " because (1) there was no intent to defraud and prejudice and (2) any inaccuracies [487] in the deposit copy were minor and do not bar the infringement action.

    66
    D. Attribution of Profits
    67

    Sony Music claims that the district court improperly applied an assumption that all profits from Bolton and Goldmark's song go to the Isley Brothers, and that no evidence supported the jury's apportionment of profits. A successful copyright plaintiff is allowed to recover only those profits that are "attributable to infringement." 17 U.S.C.S 504(b) (1994). "In establishing the infringer's profits, the copyright owner is required to present proof only of the infringer's gross revenue, and the infringer is required to prove his or her deductible expenses and the elements of profit attributable to factors other than the copyrighted work." Id. See also Cream Records, Inc. v. Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., 754 F.2d 826, 828 (9th Cir. 1985) (holding that when all profits do not clearly derive from the infringing material, the copyright owner is not entitled to recover all of the profits); Gaste , 863 F.2d at 1070 (finding that where there is "imprecision in the computation of expenses, a court should err on the side of guaranteeing the plaintiff a full recovery"). Thus, the statutory burden of proof lies with Sony Music to prove what percentage of their profits were not attributable to copying the Isley Brothers'"Love is a Wonderful Thing."

    68

    Sony Music presented evidence that Bolton's "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" produced only 5-10% of the profits from his album, "Time, Love and Tenderness," and that the song's infringing elements resulted in only 10-15% of the profits from the song. The Isley Brothers, however, attacked the credibility of one of Sony Music's experts. Furthermore, they presented evidence that Bolton's infringing song was the album's lead single, that it was released 19 days before the album, and that Bolton engaged in telephone promotion of the song. The jury found that 28% of the album's profits derived from the song, and that 66% of the song's profits resulted from infringing elements.

    69

    We affirm the jury's apportionment of the profits for several reasons. First, the jury instructions adequately conveyed the burden of proof. Second, the burden of proof was on Sony Music, and the jury chose not to believe Sony Music's experts. Finally, a jury verdict apportioning less than 100% of the profits but more than the percentage estimates of Sony Music's experts does not represent clear error.

    70
    E. Deduction of Tax Liability
    71

    Sony Music also argues that the district court erred in allowing Bolton and Goldmark, but not Sony Music, to deduct income taxes due to profits from the album. Whether income taxes are considered "deductible expenses " under S 504(b) is an issue of first impression in this circuit. The Supreme Court held that willful infringers could not deduct income taxes, but it left open the possibility that non-willful infringers could deduct their income taxes from the infringing profits. See L.P. Larson, Jr., Co. v. Wm. Wrigley, Jr., Co., 277 U.S. 97, 99-100 (1928). The circuits are split over whether non-willful infringers such as Bolton, Goldmark, and Sony Music can deduct income taxes from their infringing profits. Compare In Design v. K-Mart Apparel Corp., 13 F.3d 559, 567 (2d Cir. 1994) (allowing the deduction of income taxes) with Schnadig Corp. v. Gaines Mfg. Co., Inc., 620 F.2d 1166, 1169-70 (6th Cir. 1980) (not allowing the deduction of income taxes).

    72

    The Second Circuit allowed the deduction of income taxes because if infringers are liable for pre-tax profits, they may end up paying more money than they ever received. See In Design, 13 F.3d at 567. Under the Second Circuit's rule, the infringer receives a windfall by (1) paying a smaller damages award and (2) deducting the entire, pre-tax award from gross income on a subsequent tax return. The Sixth Circuit rejected the deduction of income taxes because the increased pre-tax [488] profits paid to the copyright holder will be balanced out by an eventual tax refund based on the pre-tax award. See Schnadig, 620 F.2d at 1169-70. Under the Sixth Circuit's rule, the copyright holder receives a windfall by receiving a larger, pre-tax award.

    73

    During the third phase of this trial, the district court adopted the findings of the special master's report regarding the deduction of income taxes. The district court followed the Second Circuit rule and allowed Bolton and Goldmark, as non-willful infringers, to deduct the income taxes and management fees that they paid relating to the infringing song. The district court, however, refused to allow Sony Music to deduct its Net Operating Loss Carry-forward (NOL) because the NOL did not have a "concrete financial impact."

    74

    We uphold the district court's decision to allow non-willful infringers to deduct income taxes, but not NOL. In this case, Bolton and Goldmark actually paid income taxes and management fees on the infringing profits. Sony Music, however, never actually paid income taxes on its infringing profits. Rather, Sony Music claimed it offset nearly $1.7 million in taxes on the infringing profits against its parent company's NOL. No court has ever found that NOL is a deductible expense under S 504(b). Furthermore, we find that the district court's distinctions between taxes actually paid and taxes not actually paid was a fair one. Thus, we affirm the district court's calculation of a $4,218,838 damages award against Sony Music.

    75
    F. Second New Trial Motion
    76

    Finally, Bolton and Goldmark claim that the district court erred in rejecting their second motion for new trial. The district court's denial of a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Browning-Ferris Indus. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278 (1989); Scott v. Ross, 140 F.3d 1275, 1281 (9th Cir. 1998). The abuse of discretion standard applies particularly when the district court's denial is based on the motion's untimeliness. See E. & J. Gallo Winery v. Gallo Cattle Co., 967 F.2d 1280, 1294-96 (9th Cir. 1992).

    77

    Bolton and Goldmark's second motion for a new trial was based on the discovery of new evidence that disputed the Isley Brothers' claim of authorship. A day before the deadline for post-trial motions, the appellees discovered evidence alleging that the Turkcords, a group that played with the Isley Brothers in the mid-1960s, claimed to have written the 1964 song, "Love is a Wonderful Thing." Bolton and Goldmark did not immediately notify the district court of this new evidence. Instead, fourteen days after the deadline for post-trial motions had passed, they filed an additional motion for new trial. The district court rejected the second motion for new trial as untimely filed.

    78

    We affirm the district court's denial of the second motion for new trial because the evidence, if true, goes at most to the weight and credibility of the evidence before the jury. At trial, Ronald Isley claimed to have written the song with the deceased guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix. (As a young man, Hendrix played in the Isley Brothers' band.) The Turkcords' claims of authorship are dubious for several reasons. The Turkcords knew about the re-release of "Love is a Wonderful Thing" by United Artists in 1991, yet they claimed that the Isley Brothers had agreed to share the song's royalties with them only after hearing about the damages award in this case on "Inside Edition." Furthermore, Bolton and Goldmark knew about this new evidence before the deadline for the post-trial motions, yet they did not immediately notify the district court.

    79

    Even if the Turkcords' claims of authorship are true, a new trial is not warranted in the interests of justice because the Isley Brothers' copyright ownership is not jeopardized. Registration is [489] prima facie evidence of the validity of a copyright. See 17 U.S.C. S 410(c) (1994). This presumption can be rebutted by the defendant's showing that the plaintiff's work is not original. See North Coast Indus. v. Jason Maxwell, Inc., 972 F.2d 1031, 1033 (9th Cir. 1992). North Coast 's definition of originality is broad: " `All that is needed to satisfy both the Constitution and the statute is that the "author " contributed something more than a "merely trivial" variation, something recognizably "his own." Originality in this context means "little more than a prohibition of actual copying." ' " Id. (quoting Krofft, 562 F.2d at 1163 n.5 (quoting Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, 191 F.2d 99, 102-03 (2d Cir. 1951))). See also Kamar Int'l Inc. v. Russ Berrie and Co., 657 F.2d 1059, 1061 (9th Cir. 1981) (employing a broad definition of originality relating to toy stuffed animals).

    80

    In this case, the Isley Brothers undoubtedly contributed something original to "Love is a Wonderful Thing. " Their proteges, the Turkcords, purportedly wrote the song, then gave the Isley Brothers' permission to record it after the voice of the Turkcords' lead singer allegedly "cracked. " Members of the Turkcords allegedly sang back-up on the record. Yet the Turkcords never copyrighted their song. They relied on the Isley Brothers' alleged promise to share the royalties with them.

    81

    The district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Bolton and Goldmark's second motion for a new trial based on this evidence. The Turkcords' claims of authorship would not have affected the outcome of the case and at most go to the weight and credibility of the evidence. Bolton and Goldmark's second motion was a last-ditch attempt to discredit the jury's verdict. The district court heard all of the evidence in this case, instructed the jury on the applicable law, yet refused to reverse the jury's verdict pursuant to motion for a judgment as a matter of law. Having found that the law was properly applied in this case, we leave the district court's decisions and the jury's credibility determinations undisturbed.

    82

    AFFIRMED.

    83

    [1] Marvin Gaye also referred to the song's chorus, "She's some kind of wonderful," in his song, "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby." See Marvin Gaye, Too Busy Thinking About My Baby, on MPG, (Motown 1969). 

  • 2 Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries (1987)

    1

    663 F.Supp. 706 (1987)

    2
    Saul STEINBERG, Plaintiff,
    v.
    COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC.; RCA Corporation; Diener Hauser Bates Co., Inc.; Columbia Pictures International Corporation; Columbia Pictures Home Video, Inc.; RCA International Audio-Visuals, Inc.; CPT Holdings, Inc.; Gold Col Productions, Inc.; RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video; RCA/Columbia Pictures International Video; the New York Times Company; New York News, Inc.; Newsday, Inc.; News Group Publications, Inc.; the Times Mirror Company; the Hearst Corporation; Chicago Tribune Company; Field Enterprises, Inc.; the Washington Post Co.; A.H. Belo Corporation; Globe Newspaper Company; Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.; A.S. Abell Publishing Co.; and Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc., Defendants.
    Saul STEINBERG, Plaintiff,
    v.
    COLUMBIA-DELPHI PRODUCTIONS, Columbia-Delphi Productions II, Delphi Film Associates, Delphi Film Associates II, News Group Boston, Inc., and News Group Chicago, Inc., Defendants.

    Nos. 84 Civ. 9208 (LLS), 87 Civ. 1750 (LLS).

    3

    United States District Court, S.D. New York.

    June 24, 1987.

    4

    [707] [708] Rembar & Curtis, New York City, for plaintiff; Charles Rembar, Frank R. Curtis, Mark W. Budwig, of counsel.

    5

    Pryor, Cashman, Sherman & Flynn, New York City, for defendants; Stephen F. Huff, Philip R. Hoffman, Tom J. Ferber, of counsel.

    6
    OPINION AND ORDER
    7
    STANTON, District Judge.
    8

    In these actions for copyright infringement, plaintiff Saul Steinberg is suing the producers, promoters, distributors and advertisers of the movie "Moscow on the Hudson" ("Moscow"). Steinberg is an artist whose fame derives in part from cartoons and illustrations he has drawn for The New Yorker magazine. Defendant Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. (Columbia) is in the business of producing, promoting and distributing motion pictures, including "Moscow." Defendant RCA Corporation (RCA) was involved with Columbia in promoting and distributing the home video version of "Moscow," and defendant Diener Hauser Bates Co. (DHB) acted as an advertising agent for "Moscow." The other defendants were added to the complaint pursuant to a memorandum decision of this court dated November 17, 1986. These defendants fall into two categories: (1) affiliates of Columbia and RCA that were involved in the distribution of "Moscow" here and/or abroad, and (2) owners of major newspapers that published the allegedly infringing advertisement.

    9

    The defendants in the second-captioned action either are joint ventures affiliated with Columbia or are newspapers that published the allegedly infringing advertisement for "Moscow." This action was consolidated with the first by stipulation dated April 3, 1987.

    10

    Plaintiff alleges that defendants' promotional poster for "Moscow" infringes his copyright on an illustration that he drew [709] for The New Yorker and that appeared on the cover of the March 29, 1976 issue of the magazine, in violation of 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-810. Defendants deny this allegation and assert the affirmative defenses of fair use as a parody, estoppel and laches.

    11

    Defendants have moved, and plaintiff has cross-moved, for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, this court rejects defendants' asserted defenses and grants summary judgment on the issue of copying to plaintiff.

    12
    I
    13

    To grant summary judgment, Fed.R. Civ.P. 56 requires a court to find that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." In reaching its decision, the court must "assess whether there are any factual issues to be tried, while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party." Knight v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir.1986), citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-11, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

    14

    Summary judgment is often disfavored in copyright cases, for courts are generally reluctant to make subjective comparisons and determinations. Hoehling v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 618 F.2d 972, 977 (2d Cir.1980), citing Arnstein v. Porter, 154 F.2d 464, 474 (2d Cir.1946). Recently, however, this circuit has "recognized that a court may determine non-infringement as a matter of law on a motion for summary judgment." Warner Brothers v. American Broadcasting Cos., 720 F.2d 231, 240 (2d Cir.1983), quoting Durham Industries, Inc. v. Tomy Corp., 630 F.2d 905, 918 (2d Cir.1980). See also Hoehling, 618 F.2d at 977; Walker v. Time-Life Films, Inc., 615 F.Supp. 430, 434 (S.D.N.Y. 1985), aff'd, 784 F.2d 44 (2d Cir.1986), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 106 S.Ct. 2278, 90 L.Ed.2d 721 (1986). "When the evidence is so overwhelming that a court would be justified in ordering a directed verdict at trial, it is proper to grant summary judgment." Silverman v. CBS Inc., 632 F.Supp. 1344, 1352 (S.D.N.Y.1986) (awarding summary judgment to defendant on counterclaim of copyright infringement).

    15

    The voluminous submissions that accompanied these cross-motions leave no factual issues concerning which further evidence is likely to be presented at a trial. Moreover, the factual determinations necessary to this decision do not involve conflicts in testimony that would depend for their resolution on an assessment of witness credibility. In addition, this case is different from most copyright infringement actions, in which it is preferable to leave the determination of the issue to a jury: each party has implied that its case is complete by moving for summary judgment, and as neither side has requested a jury, the court would be the trier of fact at trial. Finally, the interests of judicial economy are also served by deciding the case at its present stage. Summary judgment is therefore appropriate.

    16
    II
    17

    The essential facts are not disputed by the parties despite their disagreements on nonessential matters. On March 29, 1976, The New Yorker published as a cover illustration the work at issue in this suit, widely known as a parochial New Yorker's view of the world. The magazine registered this illustration with the United States Copyright Office and subsequently assigned the copyright to Steinberg. Approximately three months later, plaintiff and The New Yorker entered into an agreement to print and sell a certain number of posters of the cover illustration.

    18

    It is undisputed that unauthorized duplications of the poster were made and distributed by unknown persons, although the parties disagree on the extent to which plaintiff attempted to prevent the distribution of those counterfeits. Plaintiff has also conceded that numerous posters have been created and published depicting other localities in the same manner that he depicted New York in his illustration. These facts, however, are irrelevant to the merits of this case, which concerns only the relationship [710] between plaintiff's and defendants' illustrations.

    19

    Defendants' illustration was created to advertise the movie "Moscow on the Hudson," which recounts the adventures of a Muscovite who defects in New York. In designing this illustration, Columbia's executive art director, Kevin Nolan, has admitted that he specifically referred to Steinberg's poster, and indeed, that he purchased it and hung it, among others, in his office. Furthermore, Nolan explicitly directed the outside artist whom he retained to execute his design, Craig Nelson, to use Steinberg's poster to achieve a more recognizably New York look. Indeed, Nelson acknowledged having used the facade of one particular edifice, at Nolan's suggestion that it would render his drawing more "New York-ish." Curtis Affidavit ¶ 28(c). While the two buildings are not identical, they are so similar that it is impossible, especially in view of the artist's testimony, not to find that defendants' impermissibly copied plaintiff's.[1]

    20

    To decide the issue of infringement, it is necessary to consider the posters themselves. Steinberg's illustration presents a bird's eye view across a portion of the western edge of Manhattan, past the Hudson River and a telescoped version of the rest of the United States and the Pacific Ocean, to a red strip of horizon, beneath which are three flat land masses labeled China, Japan and Russia. The name of the magazine, in The New Yorker's usual typeface, occupies the top fifth of the poster, beneath a thin band of blue wash representing a stylized sky.

    21

    The parts of the poster beyond New York are minimalized, to symbolize a New Yorker's myopic view of the centrality of his city to the world. The entire United States west of the Hudson River, for example, is reduced to a brown strip labeled "Jersey," together with a light green trapezoid with a few rudimentary rock outcroppings and the names of only seven cities and two states scattered across it. The few blocks of Manhattan, by contrast, are depicted and colored in detail. The four square blocks of the city, which occupy the whole lower half of the poster, include numerous buildings, pedestrians and cars, as well as parking lots and lamp posts, with water towers atop a few of the buildings. The whimsical, sketchy style and spiky lettering are recognizable as Steinberg's.

    22

    The "Moscow" illustration depicts the three main characters of the film on the lower third of their poster, superimposed on a bird's eye view of New York City, and continues eastward across Manhattan and the Atlantic Ocean, past a rudimentary evocation of Europe, to a clump of recognizably Russian-styled buildings on the horizon, labeled "Moscow." The movie credits appear over the lower portion of the characters. The central part of the poster depicts approximately four New York city blocks, with fairly detailed buildings, pedestrians and vehicles, a parking lot, and some water towers and lamp posts. Columbia's artist added a few New York landmarks at apparently random places in his illustration, apparently to render the locale more easily recognizable. Beyond the blue strip labeled "Atlantic Ocean," Europe is represented by London, Paris and Rome, each anchored by a single landmark (although the landmark used for Rome is the Leaning Tower of Pisa).

    23

    The horizon behind Moscow is delineated by a red crayoned strip, above which are the title of the movie and a brief textual introduction to the plot. The poster is crowned by a thin strip of blue wash, apparently a stylization of the sky. This poster is executed in a blend of styles: the three characters, whose likenesses were copied from a photograph, have realistic faces and somewhat sketchy clothing, and the city blocks are drawn in a fairly detailed but sketchy style. The lettering on the drawing is spiky, in block-printed handwritten capital letters substantially identical to plaintiff's, while the printed texts at the top and bottom of the poster are in the [711] typeface commonly associated with The New Yorker magazine.[2]

    24
    III
    25

    To succeed in a copyright infringement action, a plaintiff must prove ownership of the copyright and copying by the defendant. Reyher v. Children's Television Workshop, 533 F.2d 87, 90 (2d Cir.1976); Durham Industries, 630 F.2d at 911; Novelty Textile Mills, Inc. v. Joan Fabrics Corp., 558 F.2d 1090, 1092 (2d Cir.1977). There is no substantial dispute concerning plaintiff's ownership of a valid copyright in his illustration. Therefore, in order to prevail on liability, plaintiff need establish only the second element of the cause of action.

    26

    "Because of the inherent difficulty in obtaining direct evidence of copying, it is usually proved by circumstantial evidence of access to the copyrighted work and substantial similarities as to protectible material in the two works." Reyher, 533 F.2d at 90, citing Arnstein v. Porter, 154 F.2d 464, 468 (2d Cir.1946). See also Novelty Textile Mills, 558 F.2d at 1092. "Of course, if there are no similarities, no amount of evidence of access will suffice to prove copying." Arnstein v. Porter, 154 F.2d at 468. See also Novelty Textile Mills, 558 F.2d at 1092 n. 2.

    27

    Defendants' access to plaintiff's illustration is established beyond peradventure. Therefore, the sole issue remaining with respect to liability is whether there is such substantial similarity between the copyrighted and accused works as to establish a violation of plaintiff's copyright. The central issue of "substantial similarity," which can be considered a close question of fact, may also validly be decided as a question of law. Berkic v. Crichton, 761 F.2d 1289, 1292 (9th Cir.1985), citing Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions, Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1157 (9th Cir.1977).

    28

    "Substantial similarity" is an elusive concept. This circuit has recently recognized that

    29

    [t]he "substantial similarity" that supports an inference of copying sufficient to establish infringement of a copyright is not a concept familiar to the public at large. It is a term to be used in a courtroom to strike a delicate balance between the protection to which authors are entitled under an act of Congress and the freedom that exists for all others to create their works outside the area protected by infringement.

    30

    Warner Bros., 720 F.2d at 245.

    31

    The definition of "substantial similarity" in this circuit is "whether an average lay observer would recognize the alleged copy as having been appropriated from the copyrighted work." Ideal Toy Corp. v. Fab-Lu Ltd., 360 F.2d 1021, 1022 (2d Cir.1966); Silverman v. CBS, Inc., 632 F.Supp. at 1351-52. A plaintiff need no longer meet the severe "ordinary observer" test established by Judge Learned Hand in Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., 274 F.2d 487 (2d Cir.1960). Uneeda Doll Co., Inc. v. Regent Baby Products Corp., 355 F.Supp. 438, 450 (E.D.N.Y.1972). Under Judge Hand's formulation, there would be substantial similarity only where "the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard their aesthetic appeal as the same." 274 F.2d at 489.

    32

    Moreover, it is now recognized that "[t]he copying need not be of every detail so long as the copy is substantially similar to the copyrighted work." Comptone Co. v. Rayex Corp., 251 F.2d 487, 488 (2d Cir. 1958). See also Durham Industries, 630 F.2d at 911-12; Novelty Textile Mills, 558 F.2d at 1092-93.

    33

    In determining whether there is substantial similarity between two works, it is crucial to distinguish between an idea and its expression. It is an axiom of copyright law, established in the case law and since codified at 17 U.S.C. § 102(b), that only the [712] particular expression of an idea is protectible, while the idea itself is not. See, e.g., Durham Industries, 630 F.2d at 912; Reyher, 533 F.2d at 90, citing Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 217, 74 S.Ct. 460, 470, 98 L.Ed. 630 (1954); Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. (11 Otto) 99, 25 L.Ed. 841 (1879). See also Warner Bros., 720 F.2d at 239.

    34

    "The idea/expression distinction, although an imprecise tool, has not been abandoned because we have as yet discovered no better way to reconcile the two competing societal interests that provide the rationale for the granting of and restrictions on copyright protection," namely, both rewarding individual ingenuity, and nevertheless allowing progress and improvements based on the same subject matter by others than the original author. Durham Industries, 630 F.2d at 912, quoting Reyher, 533 F.2d at 90.

    35

    There is no dispute that defendants cannot be held liable for using the idea of a map of the world from an egocentrically myopic perspective. No rigid principle has been developed, however, to ascertain when one has gone beyond the idea to the expression, and "[d]ecisions must therefore inevitably be ad hoc." Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., 274 F.2d 487, 489 (2d Cir.1960) (L. Hand, J.). As Judge Frankel once observed, "Good eyes and common sense may be as useful as deep study of reported and unreported cases, which themselves are tied to highly particularized facts." Couleur International Ltd. v. Opulent Fabrics, Inc., 330 F.Supp. 152, 153 (S.D.N.Y.1971).

    36

    Even at first glance, one can see the striking stylistic relationship between the posters, and since style is one ingredient of "expression," this relationship is significant. Defendants' illustration was executed in the sketchy, whimsical style that has become one of Steinberg's hallmarks. Both illustrations represent a bird's eye view across the edge of Manhattan and a river bordering New York City to the world beyond. Both depict approximately four city blocks in detail and become increasingly minimalist as the design recedes into the background. Both use the device of a narrow band of blue wash across the top of the poster to represent the sky, and both delineate the horizon with a band of primary red.[3]

    37

    The strongest similarity is evident in the rendering of the New York City blocks. Both artists chose a vantage point that looks directly down a wide two-way cross street that intersects two avenues before reaching a river. Despite defendants' protestations, this is not an inevitable way of depicting blocks in a city with a grid-like street system, particularly since most New York City cross streets are one-way. Since even a photograph may be copyrighted because "no photograph, however simple, can be unaffected by the personal influence of the author," Time Inc. v. Bernard Geis Assoc., 293 F.Supp. 130, 141 (S.D.N.Y. 1968), quoting Bleistein, supra, one can hardly gainsay the right of an artist to protect his choice of perspective and layout in a drawing, especially in conjunction with the overall concept and individual details. Indeed, the fact that defendants changed the names of the streets while retaining the same graphic depiction weakens their case: had they intended their illustration realistically to depict the streets labeled on the poster, their four city blocks would not so closely resemble plaintiff's four city blocks. Moreover, their argument that they intended the jumble of streets and landmarks and buildings to symbolize their Muscovite protagonist's confusion in a new city does not detract from the strong similarity between their poster and Steinberg's.

    38

    [713] While not all of the details are identical, many of them could be mistaken for one another; for example, the depiction of the water towers, and the cars, and the red sign above a parking lot, and even many of the individual buildings. The shapes, windows, and configurations of various edifices are substantially similar. The ornaments, facades and details of Steinberg's buildings appear in defendants', although occasionally at other locations. In this context, it is significant that Steinberg did not depict any buildings actually erected in New York; rather, he was inspired by the general appearance of the structures on the West Side of Manhattan to create his own New York-ish structures. Thus, the similarity between the buildings depicted in the "Moscow" and Steinberg posters cannot be explained by an assertion that the artists happened to choose the same buildings to draw. The close similarity can be explained only by the defendants' artist having copied the plaintiff's work. Similarly, the locations and size, the errors and anomalies of Steinberg's shadows and streetlight, are meticulously imitated.

    39

    In addition, the Columbia artist's use of the childlike, spiky block print that has become one of Steinberg's hallmarks to letter the names of the streets in the "Moscow" poster can be explained only as copying. There is no inherent justification for using this style of lettering to label New York City streets as it is associated with New York only through Steinberg's poster.

    40

    While defendants' poster shows the city of Moscow on the horizon in far greater detail than anything is depicted in the background of plaintiff's illustration, this fact alone cannot alter the conclusion. "Substantial similarity" does not require identity, and "duplication or near identity is not necessary to establish infringement." Krofft, 562 F.2d at 1167. Neither the depiction of Moscow, nor the eastward perspective, nor the presence of randomly scattered New York City landmarks in defendants' poster suffices to eliminate the substantial similarity between the posters. As Judge Learned Hand wrote, "no plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate." Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., 81 F.2d 49, 56 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 298 U.S. 669, 56 S.Ct. 835, 80 L.Ed. 1392 (1936).

    41

    Defendants argue that their poster could not infringe plaintiff's copyright because only a small proportion of its design could possibly be considered similar. This argument is both factually and legally without merit. "[A] copyright infringement may occur by reason of a substantial similarity that involves only a small portion of each work." Burroughs v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 683 F.2d 610, 624 n. 14 (2d Cir.1982). Moreover, this case involves the entire protected work and an iconographically, as well as proportionately, significant portion of the allegedly infringing work. Cf. Mattel, Inc. v. Azrak-Hamway Intern., Inc., 724 F.2d 357, 360 (2d Cir.1983); Elsmere Music, Inc. v. National Broadcasting Co., 482 F.Supp. 741, 744 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 623 F.2d 252 (2d Cir. 1980) (taking small part of protected work can violate copyright).

    42

    The process by which defendants' poster was created also undermines this argument. The "map," that is, the portion about which plaintiff is complaining, was designed separately from the rest of the poster. The likenesses of the three main characters, which were copied from a photograph, and the blocks of text were superimposed on the completed map. Nelson Deposition at 21-22; Nolan Deposition at 28.

    43

    I also reject defendants' argument that any similarities between the works are unprotectible scenes a faire, or "incidents, characters or settings which, as a practical matter, are indispensable or standard in the treatment of a given topic." Walker, 615 F.Supp. at 436. See also Reyher, 533 F.2d at 92. It is undeniable that a drawing of New York City blocks could be expected to include buildings, pedestrians, vehicles, lampposts and water towers. Plaintiff, however, does not complain of defendants' mere use of these elements in their poster; rather, his complaint is that defendants [714] copied his expression of those elements of a street scene.

    44

    While evidence of independent creation by the defendants would rebut plaintiff's prima facie case, "the absence of any countervailing evidence of creation independent of the copyrighted source may well render clearly erroneous a finding that there was not copying." Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card Co., 429 F.2d 1106, 1110 (9th Cir.1970). See also Novelty Textile Mills, 558 F.2d at 1092 n. 2.

    45

    Moreover, it is generally recognized that "... since a very high degree of similarity is required in order to dispense with proof of access, it must logically follow that where proof of access is offered, the required degree of similarity may be somewhat less than would be necessary in the absence of such proof." 2 Nimmer § 143.4 at 634, quoted in Krofft, 562 F.2d at 1172. As defendants have conceded access to plaintiff's copyrighted illustration, a somewhat lesser degree of similarity suffices to establish a copyright infringement than might otherwise be required. Here, however, the demonstrable similarities are such that proof of access, although in fact conceded, is almost unnecessary.

    46
    IV
    47

    I find meritless defendants' assertion that, to the extent that the "Moscow" poster evokes Steinberg's, that evocation is justified under the parody branch of the "fair use" doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 107. As this circuit has held, the copyrighted work must be "at least in part an object of the parody," MCA, Inc. v. Wilson, 677 F.2d 180, 185 (2d Cir.1981). The record does not support a claim that defendants intended to satirize plaintiff's illustration; indeed, the deposition testimony of Columbia's executive art director tends to contradict such a claim. Moreover, an assertion that defendants consciously parodied the idea of a parochial view of the world is immaterial: ideas are not protected by copyright, and the infringement alleged is of Steinberg's particular expression of that idea. Defendants' variation on the visual joke of plaintiff's illustration does not, without an element of humor aimed at some aspect of the illustration itself, render it a parody and therefore a fair use of plaintiff's work.

    48

    In codifying the case law on determining whether one work constitutes a fair use of another, Congress instructed the courts to consider certain factors, the first of which is whether the intended use of the allegedly infringing work is "of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes." 17 U.S.C. § 107(1). As the Second Circuit said in a different artistic context, "We are not prepared to hold that a commercial [artist] can plagiarize a ... copyrighted [work], substitute [certain elements] of his own, [produce] it for commercial gain, and then escape liability by calling the end result a parody or satire on the mores of society." MCA, Inc., 677 F.2d at 185.

    49

    In analyzing the commercial or noncommercial nature of the "Moscow" poster, it is useful to distinguish between two conceptually different situations: advertising material that promotes a parody of a copyrighted work, and advertising material that itself infringes a copyright. In the first case, the fact that the advertisement uses elements of the copyrighted work does not necessarily mean that it infringes the copyright, if the product that it advertises constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted work. See, e.g., Warner Bros., 720 F.2d at 242-44 (promotional broadcasts for television series legally parodying the Superman comic strip character did not infringe copyright in Superman character).

    50

    In the second case, the work being advertised bears no relationship to the copyrighted work, but the advertisement itself infringes the copyright. In such a case, the owners of the copyright can prevent the advertisement from being used. As the Second Circuit has said, "[n]o matter how well known a copyrighted phrase becomes, its author is entitled to guard against its appropriation to promote the sale of commercial products." Warner Bros., 720 F.2d at 242. See, e.g., D.C. Comics, Inc. v. Crazy Eddie, Inc., 205 [715] U.S.P.Q. 1177 (S.D.N.Y.1979) (discount electronics chain not permitted to advertise its stores using parody of well-known lines associated with copyrighted Superman character).

    51

    This situation fits the second case. Neither the "Moscow" movie nor the poster was designed to be a parody of the Steinberg illustration. The poster merely borrowed numerous elements from Steinberg to create an appealing advertisement to promote an unrelated commercial product, the movie. No parody of the illustration is involved, and defendants are not entitled to the protection of the parody branch of the fair use doctrine.

    52

    The other factors mandated by 17 U.S.C. § 107 do nothing to mitigate this determination. The copyrighted work at issue is an artistic creation, 17 U.S.C. § 107(2), a very substantial portion of which was appropriated in the defendants' work, 17 U.S.C. § 107(3). As for the value of the copyrighted work, 17 U.S.C. § 107(4), plaintiff submitted testimony to the court to show that his reputation was injured by having the public believe that he voluntarily lent his work to a profit-making enterprise.

    53
    V
    54

    In their motion, defendants raised the affirmative defenses of estoppel and laches. Although Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c) generally requires affirmative defenses to be pleaded, courts have been more lenient in the context of motions for summary judgment. "[A]bsent prejudice to the plaintiff, a defendant may raise an affirmative defense in a motion for summary judgment for the first time." Rivera v. Anaya, 726 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.1984). See 2A, 6 J. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice ¶¶ 8.28, 56.02[2], 56.17[4] (2d ed. 1986). It is therefore appropriate for this court to consider these defenses on the merits.

    55

    Defendants base their assertions of these equitable defenses on the following factual claims: (1) plaintiff's alleged "deliberate inaction" for eight years in the face of numerous counterfeits of his poster and adaptations of his idea to various other localities; (2) plaintiff's alleged failure to act in response to the newspaper advertisements that appeared to promote "Moscow"; and (3) defendants' assertion that Steinberg waited six months before even complaining to Columbia about their alleged infringement of his copyright on the poster, which defendants claim in their brief was a tactic on plaintiff's part to maximize the damages he hoped to receive.

    56

    The record, however, does not support defendants' claims. First, Steinberg specifically requested that The New Yorker magazine attempt to identify the sources of the counterfeit posters and prevent their continued distribution. As for the so-called adaptations of Steinberg's idea, there is no evidence that they infringed his copyright or that anyone ever believed that they did. As plaintiff freely and necessarily admits, the law does not protect an idea, but only the specific expression of that idea. The examples that defendants use to support their defense can at most be considered derivative of Steinberg's idea; none is a close copy of the poster itself, as defendants' is. Finally, defendants' last two assertions are rebutted by evidence that The New Yorker protested to The New York Times on plaintiff's behalf and at his request when "Moscow" opened, and that Columbia learned of this protest only a few weeks later.

    57

    Moreover, even were defendants' factual assertions borne out by the record, their equitable defenses would have to be rejected because they have failed to establish the elements of either estoppel or laches.

    58

    "A party seeking to invoke the doctrine of estoppel must plead and prove each of the essential elements: (1) a representation of fact ...; (2) rightful reliance thereon; and (3) injury or damage ... resulting from denial by the party making the representation." Galvez v. Local 804 Welfare Trust Fund, 543 F.Supp. 316, 317 (E.D.N. Y.1982), citing Haeberle v. Board of Trustees, 624 F.2d 1132 (2d Cir.1980).

    59

    Defendants have not established even the first of these elements. They argue that plaintiff's alleged silence [716] during the course of their advertisement campaign constitutes a sufficient representation of his acquiescence to meet the first requirement of the doctrine. As noted above, however, plaintiff did not remain silent, and the record shows that defendants, despite their awareness of his objections, continued to promote the film with the same advertisements and subsequently released a videocassette version of "Moscow" using the same promotional design. See Lottie Joplin Thomas Trust v. Crown Publishers, 592 F.2d 651, 655 (2d Cir.1978) (defense of estoppel falls where defendants fail to produce any evidence of detrimental reliance on plaintiff's alleged representations). Defendants overlook, moreover, that silence or inaction, in the absence of any duty or relationship between the parties, cannot give rise to an estoppel. Whiting Corp. v. Home Ins. Co., 516 F.Supp. 643, 656 (S.D.N.Y.1981). Cf. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Stokely-Van Camp, Inc., 522 F.2d 369, 378 (2d Cir.1975). No such duty existed here.

    60

    Defendants have likewise failed to establish the defense of laches. The party asserting laches must show that the opposing party "did not assert her or their rights diligently, and that such asserted lack of diligence ... resulted in prejudice to them." Lottie Joplin, 592 F.2d at 655, citing, inter alia, Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 282, 81 S.Ct. 534, 543, 5 L.Ed.2d 551 (1961). In Lottie Joplin, the Second Circuit held that a gap of approximately half a year between the publication of the allegedly infringing work and the institution of the lawsuit did not constitute a delay sufficient to establish a claim of laches. In this case, defendants were informed within weeks of plaintiff's disapproval of their poster; moreover, they have presented no evidence that, even if they had acknowledged any awareness of plaintiff's reaction, they would in any way have modified their subsequent actions. Consequently, they have failed to prove prejudice to themselves.

    61
    VI
    62

    For the reasons set out above, summary judgment is granted to plaintiffs as to copying.

    63

    A pretrial conference will be held on September 11, 1987, at 2 o'clock P.M., in Courtroom 35, to determine the proper measure and allocation of damages, other appropriate matters, and the parties' proposed schedule of further proceedings. The parties are to confer in advance of this conference, with the goal of reaching agreement on these matters, if possible.

    64

    [1] Nolan claimed also to have been inspired by some of the posters that were inspired by Steinberg's; such secondary inspiration, however, is irrelevant to whether or not the "Moscow" poster infringes plaintiff's copyright by having impermissibly copied it.

    65

    [2] The typeface is not a subject of copyright, but the similarity reinforces the impression that defendants copied plaintiff's illustration.

    66

    [3] Defendants claim that since this use of thin bands of primary colors is a traditional Japanese technique, their adoption of it cannot infringe Steinberg's copyright. This argument ignores the principle that while "[o]thers are free to copy the original ... [t]hey are not free to copy the copy." Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 188 U.S. 239, 250, 23 S.Ct. 298, 300, 47 L.Ed. 460 (1903) (Holmes, J.). Cf. Dave Grossman Designs, Inc. v. Bortin, 347 F.Supp. 1150, 1156-57 (N.D.Ill.1972) (an artist may use the same subject and style as another "so long as the second artist does not substantially copy [the first artist's] specific expression of his idea.")

  • 3 Boisson v. Banian (2001)

    1

    273 F.3d 262 (2nd Cir. 2001)

    2
    JUDI BOISSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
    3
    AMERICAN COUNTRY QUILTS AND LINENS, INC., D/B/A/ JUDI BOISSON AMERICAN COUNTRY, PLAINTIFF-COUNTER-DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
    v.
    BANIAN, LTD., & VIJAY RAO, DEFENDANTS-COUNTER-CLAIMANTS-APPELLEES,
    4
    JOHN DOES I-V, DEFENDANTS.
    5

    Docket No. 00-7300.
    August Term, 2000.
    UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
    Argued November 15, 2000.
    Decided December 3, 2001.

    6

    Plaintiff Judi Boisson and plaintiff/counter-defendant American Country Quilts and Linens, Inc., d/b/a Judi Boisson American Country, appeal from a judgment entered February 28, 2000 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Platt, J.), which dismissed plaintiffs' claims of copyright infringement following a bench trial.

    7

    Affirmed in part; reversed in part; and remanded.

    8

    [265] Paul R. Levenson, New York, New York (Kaplan Gottbetter & Levenson, Llp, New York, New York, of counsel), for Plaintiff Judi Boisson and American Country Quilts and Linens, Inc.

    9

    G. Roxanne Elings, New York, New York (Sudipta Rao, Greenberg Traurig, Llp, New York, New York, of counsel), for Defendants Banian, Ltd. and Vijay Rao.

    10

    Before: Cardamone, Calabresi, Circuit Judges, and HAIGHT[1], District Judge.

    11

    Cardamone, Circuit Judge.

    12

    Plaintiffs Judi Boisson and her wholly-owned company, American Country Quilts and Linens, Inc., d/b/a Judi Boisson American Country, brought suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Platt, J.), alleging that defendants Vijay Rao and his wholly-owned company Banian Ltd., illegally copied two quilt designs for which plaintiffs had obtained copyright registrations. Following a bench trial, the trial court, in [266] denying the claims of copyright infringement, ruled that defendants' quilts were not substantially similar to what it deemed were the protectible elements of plaintiffs' works. Plaintiffs have appealed this ruling. Copying the creative works of others is an old story, one often accomplished by the copyist changing or disfiguring the copied work to pass it off as his own. Stealing the particular expression of another's ideas is rightly condemned in the law because pirating the expression of the author's creative ideas risks diminishing the author's exclusive rights to her work, or as a poet said, taking all that she may be or all that she has been.

    13

    In reviewing this decision, we find plaintiffs' copyrights cover more elements than were recognized by the trial court, and that though the trial court articulated the proper test when comparing the contested works, its application of that test was too narrow. It failed not only to account for the protectible elements we identify, but also to consider the overall look and feel brought about by the creator's arrangement of unprotectible elements. Hence, we disagree with part of the district court's ruling and find some instances of copyright infringement. The trial court's disposition of those claims must therefore be reversed and remanded for a determination as to what remedies should be awarded.

    14
    BACKGROUND
    15

    Judi Boisson has been in the quilt trade for over 20 years, beginning her career by selling antique American quilts -- in particular, Amish quilts -- she purchased in various states throughout the country. By the late 1980s, having difficulty finding antique quilts, she decided to design and manufacture her own and began selling them in 1991 through her company. Boisson published catalogs in 1993 and 1996 to advertise and sell her quilts. Her works are also sold to linen, gift, antique, and children's stores and high-end catalog companies. Various home furnishing magazines have published articles featuring Boisson and her quilts.

    16

    In 1991 plaintiff designed and produced two alphabet quilts entitled "School Days I" and "School Days II." Although we later describe the quilts in greater detail, we note each consists of square blocks containing the capital letters of the alphabet, displayed in order. The blocks are set in horizontal rows and vertical columns, with the last row filled by blocks containing various pictures or icons. The letters and blocks are made up of different colors, set off by a white border and colored edging.

    17

    Boisson testified at trial that she worked on these quilts at home where she drew the letters by hand, decided on their placement in the quilts, picked out the color combinations and chose the quilting patterns. She obtained certificates of copyright registration for each quilt on December 9, 1991. All of her quilts, as well as the catalogs advertising them, include a copyright notice.

    18

    Defendant Vijay Rao is the president and sole shareholder of defendant Banian Ltd., incorporated in November 1991. Rao is an electrical engineer in the telecommunications industry who became interested in selling quilts in February 1992. To that end, he imported from India each of the three alphabet quilts at issue in this case. He sold them through boutique stores and catalog companies. The first quilt he ordered was "ABC Green Version I," which he had been shown by a third party. Defendants have not sold this pattern since 1993. "ABC Green Version II" was ordered in September 1994, based upon modifications to "ABC Green Version I" requested by Rao. Defendants reordered this quilt once in April 1995, and then [267] stopped selling it in March 1997. Regarding "ABC Navy," Rao testified that he designed the quilt himself based upon "ABC Green Version II" and imported finished copies in November 1995. Defendants voluntarily withdrew their "ABC Navy" quilts from the market in November 1998 following the initiation of this litigation.

    19

    Plaintiffs filed their suit in March 1997 seeking relief from defendants for copyright infringement, false designation of origin and unfair competition. Plaintiffs also alleged causes of action pertaining to a quilt involving a star design, but the parties agreed to dismiss those claims. Defendants counterclaimed against American Country Quilts and Linens for interference with commercial relations.

    20

    The district court held a three-day bench trial in October 1999 at which documentary evidence was received and a number of witnesses testified. The witnesses were Boisson; her daughter, who related having seen and photographed one of defendants' alphabet quilts at a trade show; plaintiffs' expert witness, who testified regarding the similarities between plaintiffs' and defendants' quilts; defendant Rao; and defendants' expert witness, who testified as to the history of alphabet quilts. At the conclusion of the trial, the district court dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims, dismissed defendants' counterclaim and denied defendants' motion for attorney's fees in a memorandum and order dated February 14, 2000. Plaintiffs have appealed from the judgment entered February 28, 2000, challenging only that part of the order and judgment that dismissed their copyright infringement claims.

    21
    DISCUSSION
    22

    Copyright infringement is established by proving "ownership of a valid copyright" and "copying of constituent elements of the work that are original." Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991). Throughout the following analysis the key consideration is the extent to which plaintiffs' work is original. See id. at 361-64, 111 S. Ct. 1282.

    23
    I. Ownership of a Valid Copyright
    24

    The Copyright Act provides that a "certificate of [copyright] registration made before or within five years after first publication of the work shall constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright." 17 U.S.C. § 410(c) (1994). Boisson secured certificates of registration for both "School Days" quilts in 1991, the same year in which she designed them, so that we must presume she holds valid copyrights. Although such a presumption may be rebutted, Folio Impressions, Inc. v. Byer Cal., 937 F.2d 759, 763 (2d Cir. 1991), the district court found there was insufficient proof to support defendants' argument that plaintiffs deliberately misled the Copyright Office when submitting their applications. By not challenging that finding on appeal, defendants concede the validity of plaintiffs' copyrights.

    25
    II. Actual Copying of Plaintiffs' Work
    26

    The element of copying breaks down into two parts. Plaintiffs must first show that defendants "actually copied" their quilts. Streetwise Maps, Inc. v. Vandam, Inc., 159 F.3d 739, 747 (2d Cir. 1998). Actual copying may be established by direct or indirect evidence. Laureyssens v. Idea Group, Inc., 964 F.2d 131, 140 (2d Cir. 1992). Indirect evidence may include proof of "access to the copyrighted work, similarities that are probative of copying between the works, and expert testimony." Id. The district court made a finding that actual copying had occurred, and because defendants do not dispute that finding, [268] actual copying is also established. But not all copying results in copyright infringement, even if the plaintiff has a valid copyright. Feist Publ'ns, 499 U.S. at 361. Plaintiffs must also demonstrate "substantial similarity" between defendants' quilts and the protectible elements of their own quilts. Streetwise Maps, 159 F.3d at 747; accord Laureyssens, 964 F.2d at 140.

    27
    III. Originality
    28

    Plaintiffs' certificates of registration constitute prima facie evidence of the validity not only of their copyrights, but also of the originality of their works. Gaste v. Kaiserman, 863 F.2d 1061, 1066 (2d Cir. 1988) ("We also note that on the issue of originality, as compared to the issue of compliance with statutory formalities, it is even clearer that copyright registration created a presumption of validity."). Yet copyright protection extends only to a particular expression of an idea, and not to the idea itself. Folio Impressions, 937 F.2d at 765; accord Beaudin v. Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc., 95 F.3d 1, 2 (2d Cir. 1996); Reyher v. Children's Television Workshop, 533 F.2d 87, 91 (2d Cir. 1976). Simply because a work is copyrighted does not mean every element of that work is protected.

    29

    "The threshold question is what characteristics of [plaintiffs'] design have gained copyright protection." Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Honora Jewelry Co., 509 F.2d 64, 65 (2d Cir. 1974) (per curiam); see also Folio Impressions, 937 F.2d at 762-65 (determining at the outset which elements of a fabric design were copyrightable). Inasmuch as protection extends only to those components of a work that are original to the author, originality is "the sine qua non of copyright." Feist Publ'ns, 499 U.S. at 348. We now review Boisson's works to determine the extent to which they are original.

    30

    Copyright law does not define the term "originality." Rather, courts have derived its meaning from art. I, § 8, cl. 8 of the United States Constitution, which authorizes Congress "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." See Feist Publ'ns, 499 U.S. at 346. Originality does not mean that the work for which copyright protection is sought must be either novel or unique, Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82, 94 (1879), it simply means a work independently created by its author, one not copied from pre-existing works, and a work that comes from the exercise of the creative powers of the author's mind, in other words, "the fruits of [the author's] intellectual labor." Id. The Supreme Court gave an example when it said, in upholding the validity of a copyright to a photo of Oscar Wilde, the photographer made a "'useful, new, harmonious, characteristic, and graceful picture... entirely from his own mental conception, to which he gave visible form by posing the [subject] and arranging the costume, draperies, and other various accessories... so as to present graceful outlines.'" Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53, 60 (1884).

    31

    If a work is not original, then it is unprotectible. Likewise an element within a work may be unprotectible even if other elements, or the work as a whole, warrant protection. Some material is unprotectible because it is in the public domain, which means that it "is free for the taking and cannot be appropriated by a single author even though it is included in a copyrighted work." Computer Assocs. [269] Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 982 F.2d 693, 710 (2d Cir. 1992).

    32
    Ruling of the Trial Court
    33

    Following the bench trial, the district court found some elements of plaintiffs' quilts were unprotectible (i.e., not original) because they were in the public domain: (1) the alphabet, (2) formation of the alphabet using six rows of five blocks across and four icons in the last row, and (3) color. Although that court expressed doubt as to whether copyright protection would extend to the shapes of the letters used in the quilts, it did not rule on that issue. These determinations as to originality may be overturned only if clearly erroneous. See Matthew Bender & Co. v. West Publ'g Co., 158 F.3d 674, 681 (2d Cir. 1998). A finding is clearly erroneous if, upon reviewing the entire record, we are left with "the definite and firm conviction" that a mistake was made. Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985).

    34
    1. Use of Alphabet
    35

    Passing now to the court's ruling, it correctly determined that the alphabet is in the public domain, a finding plaintiffs do not dispute. Nor could they object, considering the applicable regulations provide no copyright protection for "familiar symbols or designs" or "mere variations of... lettering." 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a) (2000).

    36
    2. Layouts of Alphabet
    37

    To support its finding that the layouts of plaintiffs' quilts were not protected by copyright, the district court relied upon evidence submitted by defendants showing that alphabet quilts have been in existence for over a century, suggesting that such layouts were also in the public domain. One circa 1900 quilt displayed letters and icons in blocks arranged in the same format used in "School Days I." From this evidence the court reasoned that such formation belonged to the public domain. Although it made specific findings only as to the block formation in "School Days I," we presume for purposes of our discussion that, in the absence of a specific finding as to the "School Days II" format, the trial court intended its findings on unprotectibility to extend to the layouts of both of plaintiffs' quilts.

    38

    These findings are clearly erroneous. Not only did plaintiffs obtain valid certificates of copyright registration, but also the alphabetical arrangement of the letters in the five-by-six block format required some minimum degree of creativity, which is all that is required for copyrightability. Moreover, unlike the use of letters, no federal regulation establishes that the use of this layout is unprotectible. These factors create a presumption that the layout is original and therefore a protectible element. Therefore, if defendants want to contest this presumption, they bear the burden of proving that this particular layout is not original. Cf. Gaste, 863 F.2d at 1064 (explaining that burden of proof is on defendant in infringement action who claims the plaintiff's copyright registration is invalid). At trial, defendants asserted that the particular layout of plaintiffs' quilts was copied from the public domain, but they presented insufficient proof to establish that proposition.

    39

    As noted earlier, a plaintiff attempting to prove actual copying on the part of a defendant is entitled to use direct or indirect evidence. Indirect evidence of access and substantial similarity to the plaintiff's work can "support an inference" that copying took place. Streetwise Maps, 159 F.3d at 747. Scholars disagree as to whether a defendant may also rely upon circumstantial evidence to show that a plaintiff copied from the public domain. [270] Compare Jessica Litman, The Public Domain, 39 Emory L.J. 965, 1002-03 (1990) (explaining that a defendant is not entitled to any inference that a plaintiff copied from the public domain simply by showing access and substantial similarity to the public domain work), with Russ VerSteeg, Rethinking Originality, 34 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 801, 874-75 & n.328 (1993) (permitting a defendant to show copying on the part of the plaintiff through circumstantial evidence that the plaintiff had access and created a work substantially similar to a public domain work). Assuming arguendo that an inference is allowable, defendants in the case at hand nevertheless fall short of proving Boisson copied from the public domain.

    40

    Access may be established directly or inferred from the fact that a work was widely disseminated or that a party had a reasonable possibility of viewing the prior work. See generally 4 Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright, § 13.02[A] (2001) (describing the ways in which access can be shown). Defendants proffered no evidence that Boisson owned an alphabet quilt prior to designing "School Days I" or "School Days II." Instead they point to Boisson's affirmative answer when asked at her deposition whether she had "seen an alphabet design in any other quilts." Boisson was not asked what these quilts looked like or when she saw them relative to designing her own quilts, or whether they bore any resemblance to her own designs.

    41

    Moreover, having seen an alphabet design would not conclusively establish that Boisson saw one from which she copied the arrangement of letters for her "School Days" quilts. As defendants' own proof reveals, alphabet quilts are not limited to the formations found in either the 1900 quilt or plaintiffs' quilts. Some quilts display letters out of order; some display three letters in the first and last rows with five letters in each of the middle rows; one has six letters in rows with icons placed in the border; another has varying numbers of letters in each row with icons or quilting designs in the remaining blocks; while still others have five rows of five letters with the "Z" by itself in a corner or followed by numbers representing the year the quilt was made. Nor are all letters of the alphabet always displayed or even displayed with each letter in its own block.

    42

    Defendants also failed to show that quilts with layouts similar to the "School Days" quilts were so widely disseminated or known as to infer that Boisson reasonably would have seen one before designing her own works. In particular, bearing in mind that Boisson testified as to her specialty in Amish quilts, among the books submitted by defendants into evidence for purposes of showing copying on the part of plaintiffs, only two pertained specifically to Amish designs -- Rachel & Kenneth Pellman, The World of Amish Quilts (1998) and Rachel & Kenneth Pellman, A Treasury of Amish Quilts (1998). Neither book, however, contains an alphabet quilt, although they do contain photographs of other quilts owned by Boisson. Further, Boisson testified at her deposition that she was unaware of any Amish alphabet quilts and had never seen one.

    43

    Absent evidence of copying, an author is entitled to copyright protection for an independently produced original work despite its identical nature to a prior work, because it is independent creation, and not novelty that is required. See 1 Nimmer & Nimmer, supra, § 2.01[A], at 2-9; see also Feist Publ'ns, 499 U.S. at 345 (explaining that a work is "original" for the purposes of copyright law so long as it was "independently created"). Judge Jerome Frank said that an "'author' is entitled to a copyright if he independently [271] contrived a work completely identical with what went before." Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, Inc., 191 F.2d 99, 103 (2d Cir. 1951).

    44
    3. Shapes of Letters
    45

    The trial judge made no explicit finding with respect to the shapes of the letters of the alphabet. Instead, the court stated it was "questionable" whether plaintiffs could copyright the shapes of the letters used, and it cited the regulation that provides "mere variations of typographic ornamentation" are not copyrightable. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a). At this juncture, we hesitate to say that letter shapes are unprotectible in this context, but in the absence of a trial court finding, it is not necessary for us to reach this issue.

    46
    4. Color
    47

    Color by itself is not subject to copyright protection. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a). Nevertheless, "[a]n original combination or arrangement of colors should be regarded as an artistic creation capable of copyright protection." 1 Nimmer & Nimmer, supra, § 2.14, at 2-178.4. We have previously declined to single out color as an individual element when conducting a copyright infringement analysis. In Streetwise Maps, 159 F.3d at 748, we determined that "instead of examining the [plaintiff's and defendants'] maps feature-by-feature, viewing the individual colors chosen by [plaintiff] as the protected elements upon which defendants encroached, we focus on the overall manner in which [plaintiff] selected, coordinated, and arranged the expressive elements in its map, including color, to depict the map's factual content" (emphasis added). We reached this conclusion after considering the following two Circuit precedents.

    48

    Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996 (2d Cir. 1995), involved the copyrightability of children's sweater designs. In finding copyright violations, we considered the plaintiff's original contributions to include: "(1) selecting leaves and squirrels as its dominant design elements; (2) coordinating these design elements with a 'fall' palette of colors and with a'shadow-striped'... or a four-paneled... background; and (3) arranging all the design elements and colors into an original pattern for each sweater." Id. at 1004. Similarly, in Novelty Textile Mills, Inc. v. Joan Fabrics Corp., 558 F.2d 1090, 1093 n.5 (2d Cir. 1977), we viewed color in conjunction with the plaid fabric designs utilized by the parties.

    49

    Taken together, these cases teach that even though a particular color is not copyrightable, the author's choice in incorporating color with other elements may be copyrighted. This lesson is in accord with the holding of Feist Publications. See 499 U.S. at 348 ("[C]hoices as to selection and arrangement, so long as they are made independently by the compiler and entail a minimal degree of creativity, are sufficiently original that Congress may protect such compilations through the copyright laws."). Boisson testified that she selected on a trial-and-error basis what colors to use, without reference to any existing work. This approach, combined with Boisson's other creative choices, leads us to conclude it was clear error for the district court to find that plaintiffs' choice of colors in the "School Days" quilts was an unprotectible element.

    50
    IV. Substantial Similarity: Ordinary Observer v. More Discerning Observer
    51

    Having found that plaintiffs' quilts are entitled to copyright protection and that defendants actually copied at least some elements of plaintiffs' quilts, we turn [272] our analysis to defendants' contention that its quilts were not substantially similar to plaintiffs'. We review de novo the district court's determination with respect to substantial similarity because credibility is not at stake and all that is required is a visual comparison of the products -- a task we may perform as well as the district court. Folio Impressions, 937 F.2d at 766; accord Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Inc. v. Comline Bus. Data, Inc., 166 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 1999).

    52

    Generally, an allegedly infringing work is considered substantially similar to a copyrighted work if "the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard their aesthetic appeal as the same." Folio Impressions, 937 F.2d at 765. Yet in Folio Impressions, the evidence at trial showed the plaintiff designer had copied the background for its fabric from a public domain document and "contributed nothing, not even a trivial variation." 937 F.2d at 764. Thus, part of the plaintiff's fabric was not original and therefore not protectible. We articulated the need for an ordinary observer to be "more discerning" in such circumstances.

    53

    [T]he ordinary observer would compare the finished product that the fabric designs were intended to grace (women's dresses), and would be inclined to view the entire dress -- consisting of protectible and unprotectible elements -- as one whole. Here, since only some of the design enjoys copyright protection, the observer's inspection must be more discerning.

    54

    Id. at 765-66. Shortly after Folio Impressions was decided, we reiterated that a "more refined analysis" is required where a plaintiff's work is not "wholly original," but rather incorporates elements from the public domain. Key Publ'ns, Inc. v. Chinatown Today Publ'g Enters., Inc., 945 F.2d 509, 514 (2d Cir. 1991). In these instances, "[w]hat must be shown is substantial similarity between those elements, and only those elements, that provide copyrightability to the allegedly infringed compilation." Id. In contrast, where the plaintiff's work contains no material imported from the public domain, the "more discerning" test is unnecessary. Hamil Am., Inc. v. GFI, 193 F.3d 92, 101-02 (2d Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1160 (2000). In the case at hand, because the alphabet was taken from the public domain, we must apply the "more discerning" ordinary observer test.

    55

    In applying this test, a court is not to dissect the works at issue into separate components and compare only the copyrightable elements. Knitwaves, 71 F.3d at 1003. To do so would be to take the "more discerning" test to an extreme, which would result in almost nothing being copyrightable because original works broken down into their composite parts would usually be little more than basic unprotectible elements like letters, colors and symbols. Id. This outcome --affording no copyright protection to an original compilation of unprotectible elements -- would be contrary to the Supreme Court's holding in Feist Publications.

    56

    Although the "more discerning" test has not always been identified by name in our case law, we have nevertheless always recognized that the test is guided by comparing the "total concept and feel" of the contested works. Knitwaves, 71 F.3d at 1003. For example, in Streetwise Maps, 159 F.3d at 748, we found no infringement -- not because the plaintiff's map consisted of public domain facts such as street locations, landmasses, bodies of water and landmarks, as well as color -- but rather "because the total concept and overall feel created by the two works may not be said to be substantially similar." In Nihon [273] Keizai Shimbun, 166 F.3d at 70-71, we conducted a side-by-side comparison of the articles and abstracts at issue to determine whether a copyright infringement had occurred. Looking beyond the unprotected facts, we analyzed how alike or different the abstracts were in their structure and organization of the facts. Id. at 71.

    57

    Likewise, when evaluating claims of infringement involving literary works, we have noted that while liability would result only if the protectible elements were substantially similar, our examination would encompass "the similarities in such aspects as the total concept and feel, theme, characters, plot, sequence, pace, and setting of the [plaintiff's] books and the [defendants'] works." Williams, 84 F.3d at 588; see also id. at 590 ("[A] scattershot approach cannot support a finding of substantial similarity because it fails to address the underlying issue: whether a lay observer would consider the works as a whole substantially similar to one another."). But see Fisher-Price, Inc. v. Well-Made Toy Mfg. Corp., 25 F.3d 119, 123-24 (2d Cir. 1994) (pre-dating Knitwaves and comparing feature-by-feature only the protectible elements of copyrighted dolls).

    58

    In the present case, while use of the alphabet may not provide a basis for infringement, we must compare defendants' quilts and plaintiffs' quilts on the basis of the arrangement and shapes of the letters, the colors chosen to represent the letters and other parts of the quilts, the quilting patterns, the particular icons chosen and their placement. Our analysis of the "total concept and feel" of these works should be instructed by common sense. Cf. Hamil Am., 193 F.3d at 102 (noting that the ordinary observer test involves an examination of "total concept and feel," which in turn can be guided by "good eyes and common sense"). It is at this juncture that we part from the district court, which never considered the arrangement of the whole when comparing plaintiffs' works with defendants'. With this concept in mind, we pass to a comparison of the quilts at issue.

    59
    V. Comparison
    60
    A. "School Days I" v. "ABC Green" Versions
    61

    "School Days I" consists of six horizontal rows, each row containing five blocks, with a capital letter or an icon in each block. The groupings of blocks in each row are as follows: A-E; F-J; K-O; P-T; U-Y; and Z with four icons following in the last row. The four icons are a cat, a house, a single-starred American flag and a basket. "ABC Green Version I" displays the capital letters of the alphabet in the same formation. The four icons in the last row are a cow jumping over the moon, a sailboat, a bear and a star. "ABC Green Version II" is identical to "ABC Green Version I," except that the picture of the cow jumping over the moon is somewhat altered, the bear is replaced by a teddy bear sitting up and wearing a vest that looks like a single-starred American flag, and the star in the last block is represented in a different color.

    62

    All three quilts use a combination of contrasting solid color fabrics or a combination of solid and polka-dotted fabrics to represent the blocks and letters. The following similarities are observed in plaintiffs' and defendants' designs: "A" is dark blue on a light blue background; "B" is red on a white background; "D" is made of polka-dot fabric on a light blue background; "F" on plaintiffs' "School Days I" is white on a pink background, while the "F" on defendants' "ABC Green" versions is pink on a white background; "G" has a green background; "H" and "L" are each a shade of blue on a white background; "M" in each quilt is a shade of yellow on a [274] white background. "N" is green on a white background; "O" is blue on a polka-dot background; "P" is polka-dot fabric on a yellow background; "Q" is brown on a light background; "R" is pink on a gray/purple background. "S" is white on a red background; "T" is blue on a white background; "U" is gray on a white background; "V" is white on a gray background; "W" is pink on a white background; "X" is purple in all quilts, albeit in different shades, on a light background; "Y" is a shade of yellow on the same light background; and "Z" is navy blue or black, in all the quilts.

    63

    Boisson also testified that defendants utilized the same unique shapes as she had given to the letters "J," "M," "N," "P," "R" and "W." With respect to the quilting patterns, "School Days I" and the "ABC Green" versions feature diamond-shaped quilting within the blocks and a "wavy" pattern in the plain white border that surrounds the blocks. The quilts are also edged with a 3/8" green binding.

    64

    From this enormous amount of sameness, we think defendants' quilts sufficiently similar to plaintiffs' design as to demonstrate illegal copying. In particular, the overwhelming similarities in color choices lean toward a finding of infringement. See 1 Nimmer & Nimmer, supra, § 2.14, at 2-178.4 ("[S]imilarity of color arrangements may create an inference of copying of other protectible subject matter."), quoted in Primcot Fabrics, Dep't of Prismatic Fabrics, Inc. v. Kleinfab Corp., 368 F. Supp. 482, 485 (S.D.N.Y. 1974). Although the icons chosen for each quilt are different and defendants added a green rectangular border around their rows of blocks, these differences are not sufficient to cause even the "more discerning" observer to think the quilts are other than substantially similar insofar as the protectible elements of plaintiffs' quilt are concerned. See Williams, 84 F.3d at 588 ("[D]issimilarity between some aspects of the works will not automatically relieve the infringer of liability." (emphasis removed)); Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., 81 F.2d 49, 56 (2d Cir. 1936) ("[I]t is enough that substantial parts were lifted; no plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate."). Moreover, the substitution in "ABC Green Version II" of the teddy bear wearing a flag vest as the third icon causes this version of defendants' quilt to look even more like plaintiffs' quilt that uses a single-starred American flag as its third icon. Consequently, both of defendants' "ABC Green" quilts infringed plaintiffs' copyright on its "School Days I" quilt.

    65
    B. "School Days I" v. "ABC Navy"
    66

    We agree with the district court, however, that Rao did not infringe on plaintiffs' design in "School Days I" when he created "ABC Navy." While both quilts utilize an arrangement of six horizontal rows of five blocks each, "ABC Navy" does not have its four icons in the last row. Rather, the teddy bear with the flag vest is placed after the "A" in the first row, the cow jumping over the moon is placed after the "L" in the third row, the star is placed after the "S" in the fifth row, and the sailboat is placed after the "Z" in the last row. Further, the colors chosen to represent the letters and the blocks in "ABC Navy" are, for the most part, entirely different from "School Days I." Defendants dropped the use of polka-dot fabric, and plaintiffs did not even offer a color comparison in their proposed findings of fact to the district court, as they had with each of the "ABC Green" versions. The quilting pattern in the plain white border is changed to a "zig-zag" in "ABC Navy," as opposed to plaintiffs' "wavy" design. Finally, although defendants use a binding [275] around the edge of their quilt, in this instance it is blue instead of green.

    67

    Looking at these quilts side-by-side, we conclude they are not substantially similar to one another. Just as we rejected defendants' earlier argument and held that what few differences existed between "School Days I" and the "ABC Green" quilts could not preclude a finding of infringement, plaintiffs' emphasis on the similarity in style between some of the letters between "School Days I" and "ABC Navy" cannot support a finding of infringement. See Williams, 84 F.3d at 588 ("[W]hen the similarities between the protected elements of plaintiff's work and the allegedly infringing work are of'small import quantitatively or qualitatively[,]' the defendant will be found innocent of infringement."). Because no observer, let alone a "more discerning" observer, would likely find the two works to be substantially similar, no copyright violation could properly be found.

    68
    C. "School Days II" v. "ABC Green" Versions
    69

    Boisson modified her design in "School Days II" in that she utilized seven horizontal rows of four blocks each. The capital letters are displayed A-D, E-H, I-L, M-P, Q-T, U-X, and Y-Z followed by two blocks showing a single-starred American flag and a house. In addition, she framed the rows of blocks with a red rectangular border and vertical blue stripes located off to the left and right sides. The remainder of the quilt is white, with a blue binding on the edge.

    70

    The quilting patterns and the colors used to display the letters and the blocks are substantially the same as those used in "School Days I," as are the shapes of the letters. These similarities between "School Days II" and "School Days I" mean the same similarities are shared with both of defendants' "ABC Green" quilts. Nevertheless, the "total concept and feel" of the quilts are not substantially similar. As in Streetwise Maps, where the maps at issue each depicted geographical facts pertaining to New York City but were found to do so in ways that were not alike, defendants' "ABC Green" quilts depict the alphabet in a manner different from "School Days II." Beyond the difference in how the letters are arranged, this version of plaintiffs' quilt uses the colors red, white and blue to depict a look and feel of American patriotism, while defendants' predominant use of green in their borders and edging do not create the same impression.

    71
    D. "School Days II" v. "ABC Navy"
    72

    As has been explained, although "School Days II" shares the same color combinations in its display of letters and blocks as in "School Days I," defendants' "ABC Navy" quilt does not share the same color combinations as "School Days I." Defendants' quilt is therefore different from "School Days II" in this regard as well. Combined with the varying number of rows and blocks, the placement of icons, the different use and color of rectangular borders around the blocks and the choice of quilting patterns, we agree with the district court that defendants have committed no copyright infringement in their design of "ABC Navy" when compared to plaintiffs' "School Days II." The similarity in letter design and the use of a blue edge are so trivial in the overall look of the two quilts that defendants did not infringe on plaintiffs' copyright.

    73
    VI. Remedies
    74

    The district court, having dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims for infringement, never reached the question of what remedies should be awarded. Plaintiffs seek the maximum statutory damages under 17 U.S.C. § 504, as well as attorney's fees, costs and the issuance of a permanent injunction. Because these matters are [276] better first decided in the trial court, we remand plaintiffs' successful claims to that court for consideration of appropriate remedies. See Scribner v. Summers, 84 F.3d 554, 559 (2d Cir. 1996) (remanding for damages calculations after determining liability on the part of defendants, because "[t]his task is better left to the district court in the first instance").

    75
    CONCLUSION
    76

    For the reasons stated above, we affirm the judgment of the district court insofar as it found no infringement on the part of defendants with respect to their "ABC Navy" quilt as compared to plaintiffs' "School Days I" and "School Days II" quilts and their "ABC Green Version I" and "ABC Green Version II" quilts as compared to plaintiffs' "School Days II" quilt. We reverse the judgment of the district court with respect to plaintiffs' remaining claims, and find defendants' versions I and II of their "ABC Green" quilts infringed on plaintiffs' "School Days I" quilt. Accordingly, we remand the case to the district court for it to determine the appropriate remedies.

    77

    ---------------

    78

    NOTE:

    79

    [1] Hon. Charles S. Haight, Jr., Senior United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation. 

  • 4 Mannion v. Coors Brewing Co. (2005)

    1
    377 F.Supp.2d 444
    2
    Jonathan MANNION, Plaintiff,
    v.
    COORS BREWING COMPANY and Carol H. Williams Advertising, Defendants.
    3
    No. 04 Civ. 1187(LAK).
    4
    United States District Court, S.D. New York.
    5
    July 21, 2005.
    6

    [446] Mary D. Dorman, for Plaintiff.

    7

    S. Raye Mitchell, The Mitchell Law Group, PC, for Defendants.

    8
    MEMORANDUM OPINION
    9

    KAPLAN, District Judge.

    10

    The parties dispute whether a photograph used in billboard advertisements for [447] Coors Light beer infringes the plaintiff's copyright in a photograph of a basketball star. The defendants almost certainly imitated the plaintiff's photograph. The major question is whether and to what extent what was copied is protected. The case requires the Court to consider the nature of copyright protection in photographs. The matter is before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment.

    11
    Facts
    12

    Jonathan Mannion is a freelance photographer who specializes in portraits of celebrity athletes and musicians in the rap and rhythm-and-blues worlds.[1] In 1999 he was hired by SLAM, a basketball magazine, to photograph basketball star Kevin Garnett in connection with an article that the magazine planned to publish about him.[2] The article, entitled "Above the Clouds," appeared as the cover story of the December 1999 issue of the magazine.[3] It was accompanied by a number of Mannion's photographs of Garnett, including the one at issue here (the "Garnett Photograph"), which was printed on a two-page spread introducing the article.[4]

    13

    The Garnett Photograph, which is reproduced below,[5] is a three-quarter-length portrait of Garnett against a backdrop of clouds with some blue sky shining through. The view is up and across the right side of Garnett's torso, so that he appears to be towering above earth. He wears a white T-shirt, white athletic pants, a black close-fitting cap, and a large amount of platinum, gold, and diamond jewelry ("bling bling" in the vernacular), including several necklaces, a Rolex watch and bracelet on his left wrist, bracelets on his right wrist, rings on one finger of each hand, and earrings. His head is cocked, his eyes are closed, and his heavily-veined hands, nearly all of which are visible, rest over his lower abdomen, with the thumbs hooked on the waistband of the trousers. The light is from the viewer's left, so that Garnett's right shoulder is the brightest area of the photograph and his hands cast slight shadows on his trousers. As reproduced in the magazine, the photograph cuts off much of Garnett's left arm.[6]

    14

    In early 2001, defendant Carol H. Williams Advertising ("CHWA") began developing ideas for outdoor billboards that would advertise Coors Light beer to young black men in urban areas.[7] One of CHWA's "comp boards" — a "comp board" is an image created by an advertising company to convey a proposed design[8] — used a manipulated version of the Garnett Photograph and superimposed on it the words "Iced Out" ("ice" being slang for diamonds[9]) and a picture of a can of Coors Light beer (the "Iced Out Comp Board").[10] [448] CHWA obtained authorization from Mannion's representative to use the Garnett Photograph for this purpose.[11]

    15

    The Iced Out Comp Board, reproduced below, used a black-and-white, mirror image of the Garnett Photograph, but with the head cropped out on top and part of the fingers cropped out below.[12] CHWA forwarded its comp boards to, and solicited bids for the photograph for the Coors advertising from, various photographers including Mannion, who submitted a bid but did not receive the assignment.[13]

    16

    Coors and CHWA selected for a Coors billboard a photograph (the "Coors Billboard"), reproduced below, that resembles the Iced Out Comp Board.[14] The Coors Billboard depicts, in black-and-white, the torso of a muscular black man, albeit a model other than Garnett,[15] shot against a cloudy backdrop. The pose is similar to that in the Garnett Photograph, and the view also is up and across the left side of the torso. The model in the billboard photograph also wears a white T-shirt and white athletic pants. The model's jewelry is prominently depicted; it includes a necklace of platinum or gold and diamonds, a watch and two bracelets on the right wrist, and more bracelets on the left wrist. The light comes from the viewer's right, so that the left shoulder is the brightest part of the photograph, and the right arm and hand cast slight shadows on the trousers.[16]

    17

    Mannion subsequently noticed the Coors Billboard at two locations in the Los Angeles area.[17] He applied for registration of his copyright of the Garnett Photograph in 2003[18] and brought this action for infringement in February of 2004. The registration was completed in May 2004.[19] The parties each move for summary judgment.

    18
    Discussion
    19
    A. Summary Judgment Standard
    20

    Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[20] The moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,[21] and the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[22] "Where cross-motions for summary judgment are filed, a court `must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration.'"[23]  [449]

    21
    B. The Elements of Copyright Infringement
    22

    "To prove infringement, a plaintiff with a valid copyright must demonstrate that: (1) the defendant has actually copied the plaintiff's work; and (2) the copying is illegal because a substantial similarity exists between the defendant's work and the protectible elements of plaintiff's."[24] "Actual copying" — which is used as a term of art to mean that "the defendant, in creating its work, used the plaintiff's material as a model, template, or even inspiration"[25] — may be shown by direct evidence, which rarely is available, or by proof of access and probative similarities (as distinguished from "substantial similarity") between the two works.[26]

    23

    Mannion concededly owns a valid copyright in the Garnett photograph.[27] Access is undisputed. There is ample evidence from which a trier of fact could find that CHWA actually copied the Garnett Photograph for the Coors Billboard. Thus, the major questions presented by these motions are whether a trier of fact could or must find substantial similarity between protected elements of the Garnett Photograph and the Coors Billboard.[28] If no reasonable trier could find such similarity, [450] the defendants' motion must be granted and the plaintiff's denied. If any reasonable trier would be obliged to find such similarity (along with actual copying), the plaintiff's motion must be granted and the defendants' denied. If a reasonable trier could, but would not be required to, find substantial similarity (and actual copying), both motions must be denied.

    24
    C. Determining the Protectible Elements of the Garnett Photograph
    25

    The first question must be: in what respects is the Garnett Photograph protectible?

    26
    1. Protectible Elements of Photographs
    27

    It is well-established that "[t]he sine qua non of copyright is originality"[29] and, accordingly, that "copyright protection may extend only to those components of a work that are original to the author."[30] "Original" in the copyright context "means only that the work was independently created by the author (as opposed to copied from other works), and that it possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity."[31]

    28

    It sometimes is said that "copyright in the photograph conveys no rights over the subject matter conveyed in the photograph."[32] But this is not always true. It of course is correct that the photographer of a building or tree or other pre-existing object has no right to prevent others from photographing the same thing.[33] That is because originality depends upon independent creation, and the photographer did not create that object. By contrast, if a photographer arranges or otherwise creates the subject that his camera captures, he may have the right to prevent others from producing works that depict that subject.[34]

    29

    Almost any photograph "may claim the necessary originality to support a copyright."[35] Indeed, ever since the Supreme Court considered an 1882 portrait by the celebrity photographer Napoleon Sarony of the 27-year-old Oscar Wilde,[36] courts have articulated lists of potential components of a photograph's originality.[37] [451] These lists, however, are somewhat unsatisfactory.

    30

    First, they do not deal with the issue, alluded to above, that the nature and extent of a photograph's protection differs depending on what makes that photograph original.

    31

    Second, courts have not always distinguished between decisions that a photographer makes in creating a photograph and the originality of the final product. Several cases, for example, have included in lists of the potential components of photographic originality "selection of film and camera,"[38] "lens and filter selection,"[39] and "the kind of camera, the kind of film, [and] the kind of lens."[40] Having considered the matter fully, however, I think this is not sufficiently precise. Decisions about film, camera, and lens, for example, often bear on whether an image is original. But the fact that a photographer made such choices does not alone make the image original. "Sweat of the brow" is not the touchstone of copyright.[41] Protection derives from the features of the work itself, not the effort that goes into it.

    32

    This point is illustrated by Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd. v. Corel Corp.,[42] in which this Court held that there was no copyright in photographic transparencies that sought to reproduce precisely paintings in the public domain. To be sure, a great deal of effort and expertise may have been poured into the production of the plaintiff's images, including decisions about camera, lens, and film. But the works were "slavish copies." They did not exhibit the originality necessary for copyright.[43]

    33

    The Court therefore will examine more closely the nature of originality in a photograph. In so doing, it draws on the helpful discussion in a leading treatise on United Kingdom copyright law,[44] which is [452] similar to our own with respect to the requirement of originality.[45]

    34

    A photograph may be original in three respects.[46] They are not mutually exclusive.

    35
    a. Rendition
    36

    First, "there may be originality which does not depend on creation of the scene or object to be photographed ... and which resides [instead] in such specialties as angle of shot, light and shade, exposure, effects achieved by means of filters, developing techniques etc."[47] I will refer to this type of originality as originality in the rendition because, to the extent a photograph is original in this way, copyright protects not what is depicted, but rather how it is depicted.[48]

    37

    It was originality in the rendition that was at issue in SHL Imaging, Inc. v. Artisan House, Inc.[49] That case concerned photographs of the defendants' mirrored picture frames that the defendants commissioned from the plaintiff. The photographs were to be used by the defendants' sales force for in-person pitches. When the defendants reproduced the photographs in their catalogues and brochures, the court found infringement: "Plaintiff cannot prevent others from photographing the same frames, or using the same lighting techniques and blue sky reflection in the mirrors. What makes plaintiff's photographs original is the totality of the precise lighting selection, angle of the camera, lens and filter selection."[50] Again, what made the photographs original was not the lens and filter selection themselves. It was the effect produced by the lens and filters selected, among other things. In any case, those effects were the basis of the originality of the works at issue in SHL Imaging.

    38

    By contrast, in Bridgeman Art Library, the goal was to reproduce exactly other works. The photographs were entirely unoriginal in the rendition, an extremely unusual circumstance. Unless a photograph replicates another work with total or near-total fidelity, it will be at least somewhat original in the rendition.

    39
    b. Timing
    40

    A photograph may be original in a second respect. "[A] person may create a worthwhile photograph by being at the right place at the right time."[51] I will [453] refer to this type of originality as originality in timing.

    41

    One case that concerned originality in timing, among other things, was Pagano v. Chas. Beseler Co.,[52] which addressed the copyrightability of a photograph of a scene in front of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street:

    42

    The question is not, as defendant suggests, whether the photograph of a public building may properly be copyrighted. Any one may take a photograph of a public building and of the surrounding scene. It undoubtedly requires originality to determine just when to take the photograph, so as to bring out the proper setting for both animate and inanimate objects.... The photographer caught the men and women in not merely lifelike, but artistic, positions, and this is especially true of the traffic policeman.... There are other features, which need not be discussed in detail, such as the motor cars waiting for the signal to proceed.[53]

    43

    A modern work strikingly original in timing might be Catch of the Day, by noted wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen, which depicts a salmon that appears to be jumping into the gaping mouth of a brown bear at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska.[54] An older example is Alfred Eisenstaedt's photograph of a sailor kissing a young woman on VJ Day in Times Square,[55] the memorability of which is attributable in significant part to the timing of its creation.

    44

    Copyright based on originality in timing is limited by the principle that copyright in a photograph ordinarily confers no rights over the subject matter. Thus, the copyright in Catch of the Day does not protect against subsequent photographs of bears feasting on salmon in the same location. Furthermore, if another photographer were sufficiently skilled and fortunate to capture a salmon at the precise moment that it appeared to enter a hungry bear's mouth — and others have tried, with varying degrees of success[56] — that photographer, even if inspired by Mangelsen, would not necessarily have infringed his work because Mangelsen's copyright does not extend to the natural world he captured.

    45

    In practice, originality in timing gives rise to the same type of protection as originality in the rendition. In each case, the image that exhibits the originality, but not the underlying subject, qualifies for copyright protection.

    46
    c. Creation of the Subject
    47

    The principle that copyright confers no right over the subject matter has an important limitation. A photograph may be original to the extent that the photographer created "the scene or subject to be photographed."[57] This type of originality, which I will refer to as originality in the creation of the subject, played an essential role in Rogers v. Koons[58] and Gross v. Seligman.[59]

    48

    [454] In Rogers, the court held that the copyright in the plaintiff's photograph Puppies, which depicted a contrived scene of the photographer's acquaintance, Jim Scanlon, and his wife on a park bench with eight puppies on their laps, protected against the defendants' attempt to replicate precisely, albeit in a three dimensional sculpture, the content of the photograph.[60] Although the Circuit noted that Puppies was original because the artist "made creative judgments concerning technical matters with his camera and the use of natural light"[61] — in other words, because it was original in the rendition — its originality in the creation of the subject was more salient.[62] The same is true of the works at issue in Gross v. Seligman, in which the Circuit held that the copyright in a photograph named Grace of Youth was infringed when the same artist created a photograph named Cherry Ripe[63] using "the same model in the identical pose, with the single exception that the young woman now wears a smile and holds a cherry stem between her teeth."[64]

    49

    * * * * * *

    50

    To conclude, the nature and extent of protection conferred by the copyright in a photograph will vary depending on the nature of its originality. Insofar as a photograph is original in the rendition or timing, copyright protects the image but does not prevent others from photographing the same object or scene. Thus, the copyright at issue in SHL Imaging does not protect against subsequent photographs of the picture frames because the originality of the plaintiffs' photographs was almost purely in the rendition of those frames, not in their creation or the timing of the scene captured. In Pagano, the timing of the capture of the scene in front of the New York Public Library and its rendition were original, but the copyright in the Pagano photograph does not protect against future attempts to capture a scene in front of the same building, just as a copyright in Catch of the Day would not protect against other photographers capturing images of salmon-eating bears.

    51

    By contrast, to the extent that a photograph is original in the creation of the subject, copyright extends also to that subject. Thus, an artist who arranges and then photographs a scene often will have the right to prevent others from duplicating that scene in a photograph or other medium.[65]

    52
    2. Originality of the Garnett Photograph
    53

    There can be no serious dispute that the Garnett Photograph is an original [455] work. The photograph does not result from slavishly copying another work and therefore is original in the rendition. Mannion's relatively unusual angle and distinctive lighting strengthen that aspect of the photograph's originality. His composition — posing man against sky — evidences originality in the creation of the subject. Furthermore, Mannion instructed Garnett to wear simple and plain clothing and as much jewelry as possible, and "to look 'chilled out.'"[66] His orchestration of the scene contributes additional originality in the creation of the subject.

    54

    Of course, there are limits to the photograph's originality and therefore to the protection conferred by the copyright in the Garnett Photograph. For example, Kevin Garnett's face, torso, and hands are not original with Mannion, and Mannion therefore may not prevent others from creating photographic portraits of Garnett. Equally obviously, the existence of a cloudy sky is not original, and Mannion therefore may not prevent others from using a cloudy sky as a backdrop.

    55

    The defendants, however, take this line of reasoning too far. They argue that it was Garnett, not Mannion, who selected the specific clothing, jewelry, and pose. In consequence, they maintain, the Garnett Photograph is not original to the extent of Garnett's clothing, jewelry, and pose.[67] They appear to be referring to originality in the creation of the subject.

    56

    There are two problems with the defendants' argument. The first is that Mannion indisputably orchestrated the scene, even if he did not plan every detail before he met Garnett, and then made the decision to capture it. The second difficulty is that the originality of the photograph extends beyond the individual clothing, jewelry, and pose viewed in isolation. It is the entire image — depicting man, sky, clothing, and jewelry in a particular arrangement — that is at issue here, not its individual components. The Second Circuit has rejected the proposition that:

    57

    in comparing designs for copyright infringement, we are required to dissect them into their separate components, and compare only those elements which are in themselves copyrightable.... [I]f we took this argument to its logical conclusion, we might have to decide that `there can be no originality in a painting because all colors of paint have been used somewhere in the past.[68]

    58
    3. The Idea / Expression Difficulty
    59

    Notwithstanding the originality of the Garnett Photograph, the defendants argue that the Coors Billboard does not infringe because the two, insofar as they are similar, share only "the generalized idea and concept of a young African American man wearing a white T-shirt and a large amount of jewelry."[69]

    60

    It is true that an axiom of copyright law is that copyright does not protect "ideas," only their expression.[70] Furthermore, when "a given idea is inseparably tied to a particular expression" so that "there is a `merger' of idea and expression," [456] courts may deny protection to the expression in order to avoid conferring a monopoly on the idea to which it inseparably is tied.[71] But the defendants' reliance on these principles is misplaced.

    61

    The "idea" (if one wants to call it that) postulated by the defendants does not even come close to accounting for all the similarities between the two works, which extend at least to angle, pose, background, composition, and lighting. It is possible to imagine any number of depictions of a black man wearing a white T-shirt and "bling bling" that look nothing like either of the photographs at issue here.

    62

    This alone is sufficient to dispose of the defendants' contention that Mannion's claims must be rejected because he seeks to protect an idea rather than its expression. But the argument reveals an analytical difficulty in the case law about which more ought to be said. One of the main cases upon which the defendants rely is Kaplan v. Stock Market Photo Agency, Inc.,[72] in which two remarkably similar photographs of a businessman's shoes and lower legs, taken from the top of a tall building looking down on a street below (the plaintiff's and defendants' photographs are reproduced below), were held to be not substantially similar as a matter of law because all of the similarities flowed only from an unprotected idea rather than from the expression of that idea.

    63

    But what is the "idea" of Kaplan's photograph? Is it (1) a businessman contemplating suicide by jumping from a building, (2) a businessman contemplating suicide by jumping from a building, seen from the vantage point of the businessman, with his shoes set against the street far below, or perhaps something more general, such as (3) a sense of desperation produced by urban professional life?

    64

    If the "idea" is (1) or, for that matter, (3), then the similarities between the two photographs flow from something much more than that idea, for it have would been possible to convey (1) (and (3)) in any number of ways that bear no obvious similarities to Kaplan's photograph. (Examples are a businessman atop a building seen from below, or the entire figure of the businessman, rather than just his shoes or pants, seen from above.) If, on the other hand, the "idea" is (2), then the two works could be said to owe much of their similarity to a shared idea.[73]

    65

    [457] To be sure, the difficulty of distinguishing between idea and expression long has been recognized. Judge Learned Hand famously observed in 1930:

    66

    Upon any work, and especially upon a play, a great number of patterns of increasing generality will fit equally well, as more and more of the incident is left out. The last may perhaps be no more than the most general statement of what the play is about, and at times might consist only of its title; but there is a point in this series of abstractions where they are no longer protected, since otherwise the playwright could prevent the use of his `ideas,' to which, apart from their expression, his property is never extended. Nobody has ever been able to fix that boundary, and nobody ever can.[74]

    67

    Three decades later, Judge Hand's views were essentially the same: "The test for infringement of a copyright is of necessity vague.... Obviously, no principle can be stated as to when an imitator has gone beyond copying the `idea,' and has borrowed its `expression.' Decisions must therefore inevitably be ad hoc."[75] Since then, the Second Circuit and other authorities repeatedly have echoed these sentiments.[76]

    68

    But there is a difference between the sort of difficulty Judge Hand identified in Nichols and Peter Pan Fabrics and the one presented by the Kaplan rationale and the defendants' argument about ideas in this case. The former difficulty is essentially one of line-drawing, and, as Judge Hand taught, is common to most cases in most areas of the law.[77] The latter difficulty, [458] however, is not simply that it is not always clear where to draw the line; it is that the line itself is meaningless because the conceptual categories it purports to delineate are ill-suited to the subject matter.

    69

    The idea/expression distinction arose in the context of literary copyright.[78] For the most part, the Supreme Court has not applied it outside that context.[79] The classic Hand formulations reviewed above also were articulated in the context of literary works. And it makes sense to speak of the idea conveyed by a literary work and to distinguish it from its expression. To take a clear example, two different authors each can describe, with very different words, the theory of special relativity. The words will be protected as expression. The theory is a set of unprotected ideas.

    70

    In the visual arts, the distinction breaks down. For one thing, it is impossible in most cases to speak of the particular "idea" captured, embodied, or conveyed by a work of art because every observer will have a different interpretation.[80] Furthermore, it is not clear that there is any real distinction between the idea in a work of art and its expression. An artist's idea, among other things, is to depict a particular subject in a particular way. As a demonstration, a number of cases from this Circuit have observed that a photographer's "conception" of his subject is copyrightable.[81] By "conception," the courts must mean originality in the rendition, timing, and creation of the subject — for that is what copyright protects in photography. But the word "conception" is a cousin of "concept," and both are akin to "idea." In other words, those elements of a photograph, or indeed, any work of visual art protected by copyright, could just as [459] easily be labeled "idea" as "expression."[82]

    71

    This Court is not the first to question the usefulness of the idea/expression terminology in the context of non-verbal media. Judge Hand pointed out in Peter Pan Fabrics that whereas "[i]n the case of verbal `works', it is well settled that ... there can be no copyright in the `ideas' disclosed but only in their `expression[,]'" "[i]n the case of designs, which are addressed to the aesthetic sensibilities of the observer, the test is, if possible, even more intangible."[83] Moreover, Judge Newman has written:

    72

    I do not deny that all of these subject matters [computer programs, wooden dolls, advertisements in a telephone directory] required courts to determine whether the first work was copyrightable and whether the second infringed protectable elements. What I question is whether courts should be making those determinations with the same modes of analysis and even the same vocabulary that was appropriate for writings.... [I]t is not just a matter of vocabulary. Words convey concepts, and if we use identical phrases from one context to resolve issues in another, we risk failing to notice that the relevant concepts are and ought to be somewhat different.[84]

    73

    He then referred to dicta from his own decision in Warner Bros. v. American Broadcasting Companies,[85] explaining: "I was saying ... [that] one cannot divide a visual work into neat layers of abstraction in precisely the same manner one could with a text."[86] The Third Circuit has made a similar point:

    74

    Troublesome, too, is the fact that the same general principles are applied in claims involving plays, novels, sculpture, maps, directories of information, musical compositions, as well as artistic paintings. Isolating the idea from the expression and determining the extent of copying required for unlawful appropriation necessarily depend to some degree on whether the subject matter is words or symbols written on paper, or paint brushed onto canvas.[87]

    75

    For all of these reasons, I think little is gained by attempting to distinguish an unprotectible "idea" from its protectible "expression" in a photograph or other work of visual art. It remains, then, to consider just what courts have been referring to [460] when they have spoken of the "idea" in a photograph.

    76

    A good example is Rogers v. Koons, in which the court observed that "[i]t is not ... the idea of a couple with eight small puppies seated on a bench that is protected, but rather Rogers' expression of this idea — as caught in the placement, in the particular light, and in the expressions of the subjects...."[88] But "a couple with eight small puppies seated on a bench" is not necessarily the idea of Puppies, which just as easily could be "people with dogs on their laps," "the bliss of owning puppies," or even a sheepishly ironic thought such as "Ha ha! This might look cute now, but boy are these puppies going to be a lot of work!"

    77

    Rather, "a couple with eight small puppies seated on a bench" is nothing more or less than what "a young African American man wearing a white T-shirt and a large amount of jewelry"[89] is: a description of the subject at a level of generality sufficient to avoid implicating copyright protection for an original photograph. Other copyright cases that have referred to the "idea" of a photograph also used "idea" to mean a general description of the subject or subject matter.[90] The Kaplan decision even used these terms interchangeably: "The subject matter of both photographs is a businessperson contemplating a leap from a tall building onto the city street below. As the photograph's central idea, rather than Kaplan's expression of the idea, this subject matter is unprotectable in and of itself."[91] Thus another photographer [461] may pose a couple with eight puppies on a bench, depict a businessman contemplating a leap from an office building onto a street, or take a picture of a black man in white athletic wear and showy jewelry. In each case, however, there would be infringement (assuming actual copying and ownership of a valid copyright) if the subject and rendition were sufficiently like those in the copyrighted work.

    78

    This discussion of course prompts the question: at what point do the similarities between two photographs become sufficiently general that there will be no infringement even though actual copying has occurred? But this question is precisely the same, although phrased in the opposite way, as one that must be addressed in all infringement cases, namely whether two works are substantially similar with respect to their protected elements. It is nonsensical to speak of one photograph being substantially similar to another in the rendition and creation of the subject but somehow not infringing because of a shared idea. Conversely, if the two photographs are not substantially similar in the rendition and creation of the subject, the distinction between idea and expression will be irrelevant because there can be no infringement. The idea/expression distinction in photography, and probably the other visual arts, thus achieves nothing beyond what other, clearer copyright principles already accomplish.

    79

    I recognize that those principles sometimes may pose a problem like that Judge Hand identified with distinguishing idea from expression in the literary context. As Judge Hand observed, however, such line-drawing difficulties appear in all areas of the law. The important thing is that the categories at issue be useful and relevant, even if their precise boundaries are sometimes difficult to delineate. In the context of photography, the idea/expression distinction is not useful or relevant.

    80
    D. Comparison of the Coors Billboard and the Garnett Photograph
    81

    The next step is to determine whether a trier of fact could or must find the Coors Billboard substantially similar to the Garnett Photograph with respect to their protected elements.

    82

    Substantial similarity ultimately is a question of fact. "The standard test for substantial similarity between two items is whether an `ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the] aesthetic appeal as the same.'"[92] The Second Circuit sometimes has applied a "more discerning observer" test when a work contains both protectible and unprotectible elements. The test "requires the court to eliminate the unprotectible elements from its consideration and to ask whether the protectible elements, standing alone, are substantially similar."[93] The Circuit, however, is ambivalent about this test. In several cases dealing with fabric and garment designs, the Circuit has cautioned that:

    83

    [462] a court is not to dissect the works at issue into separate components and compare only the copyrightable elements.... To do so would be to take the `more discerning' test to an extreme, which would result in almost nothing being copyrightable because original works broken down into their composite parts would usually be little more than basic unprotectible elements like letters, colors and symbols.[94]

    84

    Dissecting the works into separate components and comparing only the copyrightable elements, however, appears to be exactly what the "more discerning observer" test calls for.

    85

    The Circuit indirectly spoke to this tension in the recent case of Tufenkian Import/Export Ventures, Inc. v. Einstein Moomjy, Inc.[95] There the trial court purported to use the more discerning observer test but nonetheless compared the "total-concept-and-feel" of carpet designs.[96] The Circuit observed that the more discerning observer test is "intended to emphasize that substantial similarity must exist between the defendant's allegedly infringing design and the protectible elements in the plaintiff's design."[97] In making its own comparison, the Circuit did not mention the "more discerning observer" test at all, but it did note that:

    86

    "the total-concept-and-feel locution functions as a reminder that, while the infringement analysis must begin by dissecting the copyrighted work into its component parts in order to clarify precisely what is not original, infringement analysis is not simply a matter of ascertaining similarity between components viewed in isolation.... The court, confronted with an allegedly infringing work, must analyze the two works closely to figure out in what respects, if any, they are similar, and then determine whether these similarities are due to protected aesthetic expressions original to the allegedly infringed work, or whether the similarity is to something in the original that is free for the taking."[98]

    87

    In light of these precedents, the Court concludes that it is immaterial whether the ordinary or more discerning observer test is used here because the inquiries would be identical. The cases agree that the relevant comparison is between the protectible elements in the Garnett Photograph and the Coors Billboard, but that those elements are not to be viewed in isolation.

    88

    The Garnett Photograph is protectible to the extent of its originality in the rendition and creation of the subject. Key elements of the Garnett Photograph that are in the public domain — such as Kevin Garnett's likeness — are not replicated in the Coors Billboard. Other elements arguably in the public domain — such as the existence of a cloudy sky, Garnett's pose, his white T-shirt, and his specific jewelry — may not be copyrightable in and of themselves, but their existence and arrangement in this photograph indisputably contribute to its originality. Thus the fact that the Garnett Photograph includes certain elements that would not be copyrightable in isolation does not affect the nature of the comparison. The question is whether the aesthetic appeal of the two images is the same.

    89

    The two photographs share a similar composition and angle. The lighting is similar, and both use a cloudy sky as backdrop. [463] The subjects are wearing similar clothing and similar jewelry arranged in a similar way. The defendants, in other words, appear to have recreated much of the subject that Mannion had created and then, through imitation of angle and lighting, rendered it in a similar way. The similarities here thus relate to the Garnett Photograph's originality in the rendition and the creation of the subject and therefore to its protected elements.

    90

    There of course are differences between the two works. The similarity analysis may take into account some, but not all, of these. It long has been the law that "no plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate."[99] Thus the addition of the words "Iced Out" and a can of Coors Light beer may not enter into the similarity analysis.

    91

    Other differences, however, are in the nature of changes rather than additions. One image is black and white and dark, the other is in color and bright. One is the mirror image of the other. One depicts only an unidentified man's torso, the other the top three-fourths of Kevin Garnett's body. The jewelry is not identical. One T-shirt appears to fit more tightly than the other. These changes may enter the analysis because "[i]f the points of dissimilarity not only exceed the points of similarity, but indicate that the remaining points of similarity are, within the context of plaintiff's work, of minimal importance... then no infringement results."[100]

    92

    The parties have catalogued at length and in depth the similarities and differences between these works. In the last analysis, a reasonable jury could find substantial similarity either present or absent. As in Kisch v. Ammirati & Puris Inc.,[101] which presents facts as close to this case as can be imagined, the images are such that infringement cannot be ruled out — or in — as a matter of law.

    93
    Conclusion
    94

    The defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint (docket item 18) is granted to the extent that the complaint seeks relief for violation of the plaintiff's exclusive right to prepare derivative works and otherwise denied. The plaintiff's cross motion for summary judgment is denied.

    95

    SO ORDERED.

    96

    ---------------

    97

    Notes:

    98

    [1] Mannion Decl. ¶ 1.

    99

    [2] Id. ¶ 3.

    100

    [3] See Pl.Ex. A.

    101

    [4] See id.; Def. Ex. A; Am. Cpt. Ex. B.

    102

    [5] Published opinions in copyright cases concerning graphical works do not often include reproductions of those works. Two exceptions are Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996, 1014-17 (2d Cir.1995) and Tufenkian Import/Export Ventures, Inc. v. Einstein Moomjy, Inc., 237 F.Supp.2d 376, 390-93 (S.D.N.Y.2002). Such reproductions are helpful in understanding the opinions, even if the images are not ideal because the West reporters print in black and white.

    103

    [6] Def. Ex. A; Pl.Ex. A; Am. Cpt. Ex. B; Mannion Decl. ¶¶ 4-5, 7-8.

    104

    [7] Cook Decl. ¶ 2.

    105

    [8] See Mannion Decl. ¶ 12; Cook Decl. ¶ 4; Fournier v. Erickson, 202 F.Supp.2d 290, 292 (S.D.N.Y.2002).

    106

    [9] See, e.g., AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY 868 (4th ed.2000).

    107

    [10] See Cook Decl. ¶¶ 3, 5; Pl.Ex. B.

    108

    [11] See Cook Decl. ¶ 5; Def. Ex. B.

    109

    The authorization was for "[u]sage in internal corporate merchandising catalog," Def. Ex. B, which Mannion concedes extended to the Iced Out Comp Board. See Pl. Opening Mem. 2; Pl. Reply Mem. 2.

    110

    [12] See Pl.Ex. B.

    111

    [13] Cook Decl. ¶ 6; Mannion Decl. ¶¶ 12, 17-19.

    112

    [14] See Def. Ex. C; Am. Cpt. Ex. C.

    113

    [15] Cook Decl. ¶ 7.

    114

    [16] See Def. Ex. C; Am. Cpt. Ex. C.

    115

    [17] Mannion Decl. ¶ 20.

    116

    [18] Am. Cpt. Ex. A.

    117

    [19] Id.

    118

    [20] FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); White v. ABCO Eng'g Corp., 221 F.3d 293, 300 (2d Cir.2000).

    119

    [21] Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970).

    120

    [22] United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Hetchkop v. Woodlawn at Grassmere, Inc., 116 F.3d 28, 33 (2d Cir.1997).

    121

    [23] Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union, Local 100 v. City of New York Dep't of Parks & Recreation, 311 F.3d 534, 543 (2d Cir.2002) (quoting Heublein, Inc. v. United States, 996 F.2d 1455, 1461 (2d Cir.1993) (internal quotation marks omitted)); accord Make the Road by Walking, Inc. v. Turner, 378 F.3d 133, 142 (2d Cir.2004).

    122

    [24] Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996, 1002 (2d Cir.1995) (second emphasis added) (quoting Fisher-Price, Inc. v. Well-Made Toy Mfg. Corp., 25 F.3d 119, 122-23 (2d Cir.1994)); accord Tufenkian Import/Export Ventures, Inc. v. Einstein Moomjy, Inc., 338 F.3d 127, 131 (2d Cir.2003) (citing Castle Rock Entm't, Inc. v. Carol Publ'g Group, Inc., 150 F.3d 132, 137-38 (2d Cir.1998)); Boisson v. Banian, Ltd., 273 F.3d 262, 267-68 (2d Cir.2001) (citing Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991) and Streetwise Maps, Inc. v. VanDam, Inc., 159 F.3d 739, 747 (2d Cir.1998)); Fournier v. Erickson, 202 F.Supp.2d 290, 294 (S.D.N.Y.2002).

    123

    [25] 4 NIMMER ON COPYRIGHT § 13.01[B], at 13-8 ("NIMMER").

    124

    [26] E.g., Jorgensen v. Epic/Sony Records, 351 F.3d 46, 51 (2d Cir.2003); Boisson, 273 F.3d at 267-68 (citing Laureyssens v. Idea Group, Inc., 964 F.2d 131, 140 (2d Cir.1992)).

    125

    [27] See Def. Opening Mem. 7; Def. Supp. Mem. 5.

    126

    [28] Contrary to the implication in some of the plaintiff's papers, see Am. Cpt. ¶¶ 27-29; Pl. Opening Mem. 6; Pl. Supp. Mem. 6-10; see also Tr. (1/27/05) 8-11, 14-19, 25, 30-32, 34-36 ("Tr."), this case does not require a determination whether the defendants have violated the plaintiff's exclusive right under 17 U.S.C. § 106(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the Garnett Photograph. The image used on the Iced Out Comp Board may have been a derivative work based upon the Garnett Photograph, see 17 U.S.C. § 101 (2005), but CHWA obtained the right to use the Garnett Photograph in connection with the Iced Out Comp Board.

    127

    The question whether the Coors Billboard is a derivative work based upon the Garnett Photograph is immaterial. "[A] work will be considered a derivative work only if it would be considered an infringing work" absent consent. 1 NIMMER § 3.01, at 3-4. That is, the infringement inquiry logically precedes or at least controls the derivative work inquiry.

    128

    Finally — again contrary to the plaintiff's suggestion, see Pl. Opening Mem. 9; Pl. Reply Mem. 2-4; Tr. 21-24 — also immaterial is the question whether the Coors Billboard may infringe Mannion's copyright if the Coors Billboard is not substantially similar to the Garnett Photograph but is substantially similar to the Garnett Photograph's hypothesized derivative on the Iced Out Comp Board. Mannion has no registered copyright in the image on the Iced Out Comp Board, which precludes a suit for infringement based upon that image. Well-Made Toy Mfg. Corp. v. Goffa Int'l Corp., 354 F.3d 112, 115-117 (2d Cir.2003); 17 U.S.C. § 411(a) (2005).

    129

    The only question in this case is whether the Coors Billboard infringes the copyright in the Garnett Photograph. The only material comparison therefore is between those two images. Accordingly, the complaint is dismissed to the extent that it asserts a violation of Mannion's exclusive right to prepare derivative works.

    130

    [29] Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 345, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991).

    131

    [30] Id. at 348, 111 S.Ct. 1282.

    132

    [31] Id. at 345, 111 S.Ct. 1282 (citing 1 NIMMER §§ 2.01[A], [B] (1990)).

    133

    [32] 1 NIMMER § 2.08[E][1], at 2-130.

    134

    [33] E.g., Caratzas v. Time Life, Inc., No. 92 Civ. 6346(PKL), 1992 WL 322033, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct.23, 1992) (observing, in the context of photographs of historic sites, that "Justice Holmes made it clear almost ninety years ago that actionable copying does not occur where a photographer takes a picture of the subject matter depicted in a copyrighted photograph, so long as the second photographer does not copy original aspects of the copyrighted work, such as lighting or placement of the subject.").

    135

    [34] See Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir.1992); Gross v. Seligman, 212 F. 930 (2d Cir.1914).

    136

    [35] 1 NIMMER § 2.08[E][1], at 2-129; see also Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd. v. Corel Corp., 36 F.Supp.2d 191, 196 (S.D.N.Y.1999).

    137

    [36] See Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53, 4 S.Ct. 279, 28 L.Ed. 349 (1884); SHL Imaging, Inc. v. Artisan House, Inc., 117 F.Supp.2d 301, 307-08 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (recounting the history of Burrow-Giles with reference to THE WAKING DREAM: PHOTOGRAPHY'S FIRST CENTURY 339-40 (Met. Museum of Art 1993)).

    138

    The photograph at issue in Burrow-Giles is reproduced in MELVILLE B. NIMMER ET AL., CASES AND MATERIALS ON COPYRIGHT 11 (6th ed. 2000) ("CASES AND MATERIALS ON COPYRIGHT").

    139

    [37] See Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co., 111 U.S. at 60, 4 S.Ct. 279 (originality of Wilde portrait founded upon overall composition, including pose, clothing, background, light, and shade, "suggesting and evoking the desired expression"); Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 137 F.3d 109, 116 (2d Cir.1998) ("Leibovitz is entitled to protection for such artistic elements as the particular lighting, the resulting skin tone of the subject, and the camera angle that she selected."); Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301, 307 (2d Cir.1992) ("Elements of originality in a photograph may include posing the subjects, lighting, angle, selection of film and camera, evoking the desired expression, and almost any other variant involved."); Gross v. Seligman, 212 F. 930, 931 (2d Cir.1914) ("exercise of artistic talent" reflected in "pose, light, and shade, etc."); SHL Imaging, Inc. v. Artisan House, Inc., 117 F.Supp.2d 301, 311 (S.D.N.Y.2000) ("What makes plaintiff's photographs original is the totality of the precise lighting selection, angle of the camera, lens and filter selection."); E. Am. Trio Prods., Inc. v. Tang Elec. Corp., 97 F.Supp.2d 395, 417 (S.D.N.Y.2000) ("The necessary originality for a photograph may be founded upon, among other things, the photographer's choice of subject matter, angle of photograph, lighting, determination of the precise time when the photograph is to be taken, the kind of camera, the kind of film, the kind of lens, and the area in which the pictures are taken."); Kisch v. Ammirati & Puris Inc., 657 F.Supp. 380, 382 (S.D.N.Y.1987) (copyrightable elements of a photograph "include such features as the photographer's selection of lighting, shading, positioning and timing.").

    140

    Even these lists are not complete. They omit such features as the amount of the image in focus, its graininess, and the level of contrast.

    141

    [38] Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301, 307 (2d Cir.1992).

    142

    [39] SHL Imaging, Inc. v. Artisan House, Inc., 117 F.Supp.2d 301, 311 (S.D.N.Y.2000).

    143

    [40] E. Am. Trio Prods., Inc. v. Tang Elec. Corp., 97 F.Supp.2d 395, 417 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (Kaplan, J.)

    144

    [41] Feist, 499 U.S. at 359-60, 111 S.Ct. 1282.

    145

    [42] 36 F.Supp.2d 191 (S.D.N.Y.1999).

    146

    [43] Id. at 197; Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd. v. Corel Corp., 25 F.Supp.2d 421, 427 & nn. 41, 47 (S.D.N.Y.1998).

    147

    [44] HON. SIR HUGH LADDIE ET AL., THE MODERN LAW OF COPYRIGHT AND DESIGNS (3d ed. Butterworths 2000) ("LADDIE").

    148

    [45] See Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, c. 48, § 1(1)(a); 1 LADDIE § 1.8.

    149

    [46] See 1 LADDIE § 4.57, at 229.

    150

    [47] Id.

    151

    [48] See Caratzas v. Time Life, Inc., No. 92 Civ. 6346(PKL), 1992 WL 322033, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct.23, 1992); Leigh v. Warner Bros., 212 F.3d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.2000); see also Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 188 U.S. 239, 249, 23 S.Ct. 298, 47 L.Ed. 460 (1903) ("It is obvious also that the plaintiff's case is not affected by the fact, if it be one, that the pictures represent actual groups — visible things. They seem from the testimony to have been composed from hints or description, not from sight.... But even if they had been drawn from the life, that fact would not deprive them of protection. The opposite proposition would mean that a portrait by Velasquez or Whistler was common property because others might try their hand on the same face. Others are free to copy the original. They are not free to copy the copy."); Franklin Mint Corp. v. Nat'l Wildlife Art Exchange, Inc., 575 F.2d 62, 65 (3d Cir.1978) (same); F.W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, 193 F.2d 162, 164 (1st Cir.1951) ("It is the well established rule that a copyright on a work of art does not protect a subject, but only the treatment of a subject."); BENJAMIN KAPLAN, AN UNHURRIED VIEW OF COPYRIGHT 56 (1967) (observing that, with respect to "works of `fine art,'" "the manner of execution is usually of more interest than the subject pictured.").

    152

    [49] 117 F.Supp.2d 301 (S.D.N.Y.2000).

    153

    [50] Id. at 311.

    154

    [51] 1 LADDIE § 4.57, at 229.

    155

    [52] 234 F. 963 (S.D.N.Y.1916).

    156

    [53] Id. at 964.

    157

    [54] A digital image of the photograph may be found at http://www.fulcrumgallery.com/print — 38089.aspx (last visited July 20, 2005).

    158

    [55] A digital image appears at http://www.gallerym.com/work.cfm? ID=69 (last visited July 20, 2005).

    159

    [56] See, e.g., http://www.raydoan.com/6140.asp (last visited July 20, 2005); http://www .shusterimages.net/BearsätBrooksFalls.htm (last visited July 20, 2005).

    160

    [57] 1 LADDIE § 4.57, at 229.

    161

    [58] 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir.1992).

    162

    [59] 212 F. 930 (2d Cir.1914).

    163

    [60] For a reproduction of the works at issue in Rogers v. Koons, see ROBERT C. OSTERBERG & ERIC C. OSTERBERG, SUBSTANTIAL SIMILARITY IN COPYRIGHT LAW A-24, A-25 (Practising Law Institute 2003).

    164

    [61] 960 F.2d at 304.

    165

    [62] See id. ("When Rogers went to [Jim Scanlon's] home... he decided that taking a picture of the puppies alone [as Scanlon originally had requested] would not work successfully, and chose instead to include [the Scanlons] holding them.... [Rogers] selected the light, the location, the bench on which the Scanlons are seated and the arrangement of the small dogs.").

    166

    [63] The two photographs are reproduced in CASES AND MATERIALS ON COPYRIGHT 211.

    167

    [64] 212 F. at 930-31.

    168

    Also part of the court's analysis was the observation that there were "many close identities of ... light[] and shade." Id.

    169

    [65] I recognize that the preceding analysis focuses on a medium — traditional print photography — that is being supplanted in significant degree by digital technology. These advancements may or may not demand a different analytical framework.

    170

    [66] Mannion Decl. ¶¶ 4-7, 9.

    171

    [67] Def. Reply Mem. 10-11.

    172

    The defendants complain as well that Mannion's declaration does not mention, among other things, the type of film, camera, and filters that he used to produce the Garnett Photograph. Id. at 11. These omissions are irrelevant. As discussed above, originality in the rendition is assessed with respect to the work, not the artist's specific decisions in producing it.

    173

    [68] Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996, 1003 (2d Cir.1995) (citation omitted).

    174

    [69] Def. Br. 6.

    175

    [70] See 4 NIMMER § 13.03[B][2][a]; 17 U.S.C. § 102(b).

    176

    [71] 4 NIMMER § 13.03[B][3].

    177

    [72] 133 F.Supp.2d 317 (S.D.N.Y.2001).

    178

    [73] The Kaplan decision itself characterized the "idea" as "a businessperson contemplating a leap from a tall building onto the city street below," see id. at 323, but this characterization does not fully account for the disposition of the case. The court agreed with the defendants that:

    179

    "in order to most accurately express th[is] idea ..., the photograph must be taken from the `jumper's' own viewpoint, which would (i) naturally include the sheer side of the building and the traffic below, and (ii) logically restrict the visible area of the businessperson's body to his shoes and a certain portion of his pants legs.... Thus, the angle and viewpoint used in both photographs are essential to, commonly associated with, and naturally flow from the photograph's unprotectable subject matter.... [T]he most common, and most effective, viewpoint from which the convey the idea of the `jumper' ... remains that of the `jumper' himself." Id. at 326.

    180

    The Kaplan court's observations about the angle and viewpoint "essential to" and "commonly associated with," that "naturally flow from," "most accurately express," and "most effective[ly]" convey the "idea of a businessperson's contemplation of a leap" are unpersuasive. Thus, the opinion is best read to hold that the "idea" expressed was that of a businessperson contemplating suicide as seen from his own vantage point because only this reading explains the outcome.

    181

    [74] Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119, 121 (2d Cir.1930) (citation omitted).

    182

    This passage is often referred to as the abstractions test, but it is no such thing. Judge Newman has lamented this parlance and the underlying difficulty it elides: "Judge Hand manifestly did not think of his observations as the enunciation of anything that might be called a `test.' His disclaimer (for himself and everyone else) of the ability to `fix the boundary' should have been sufficient caution that no `test' capable of yielding a result was intended." Hon. Jon O. Newman, New Lyrics for an Old Melody: The Idea/Expression Dichotomy in the Computer Age, 17 CARDOZO ARTS & ENT. L.J. 691, 694 (1999).

    183

    [75] Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., 274 F.2d 487, 489 (2d Cir.1960).

    184

    [76] See, e.g., Attia v. Soc'y of the N.Y. Hosp., 201 F.3d 50, 54 (2d Cir.1999) (quoting Peter Pan Fabrics0; Williams v. Crichton, 84 F.3d 581, 587-588 (2d Cir.1996) ("The distinction between an idea and its expression is an elusive one."); Durham Indus., Inc. v. Tomy Corp., 630 F.2d 905, 912 (2d Cir.1980) (quoting Peter Pan Fabrics and characterizing "the idea/expression distinction" as "an imprecise tool"); Reyher v. Children's Television Workshop, 533 F.2d 87, 91 (2d Cir.1976) (acknowledging that "the demarcation between idea and expression may not be susceptible to overly helpful generalization"); Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Kalpakian, 446 F.2d 738, 742 (9th Cir.1971) ("At least in close cases, one may suspect, the classification the court selects may simply state the result reached rather than the reason for it."); Fournier v. Erickson, 202 F.Supp.2d 290, 295 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ("the distinction between the concept and the expression of a concept is a difficult one"); see also BENJAMIN KAPLAN, AN UNHURRIED VIEW OF COPYRIGHT 48 (1967) ("We are in a viscid quandary once we admit that `expression' can consist of anything not close aboard the particular collocation in its sequential order. The job of comparison is not much eased by speaking of patterns, nor is the task of deciding when the monopoly would be too broad for the public convenience made much neater by speaking of ideas and expression. The polarity proposed by Hand is indeed related geneologically to the ancient opposition of idea to form, but the ancestor is not readily recognized in the ambiguous and elusive descendant.").

    185

    [77] "[W]hile we are as aware as any one that the line, whereever it is drawn, will seem arbitrary, that is no excuse for not drawing it; it is a question such as courts must answer in nearly all cases." Nichols, 45 F.2d at 122.

    186

    [78] There appears to be no Supreme Court case explicitly making the distinction any earlier than Holmes v. Hurst, 174 U.S. 82, 19 S.Ct. 606, 43 L.Ed. 904 (1899), in which the Court observed that the Copyright Act protects "that arrangement of words which the author has selected to express his ideas." Id. at 86, 19 S.Ct. 606.

    187

    [79] One non-literary case in which the Supreme Court referred to the idea/expression distinction was Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 217-18, 74 S.Ct. 460, 98 L.Ed. 630 (1954), which is described below in footnote 80.

    188

    [80] In cases dealing with toys or products that have both functional and design aspects, courts sometimes use "idea" to refer to a gimmick embodied in the product. See, e.g., Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 217-18, 74 S.Ct. 460, 98 L.Ed. 630 (1954) (court, after introducing idea/expression dichotomy, stated that plaintiffs, who had copyrights in statuettes of human figures used as table lamps, "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."); Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Kalpakian, 446 F.2d 738, 742 (9th Cir.1971) (bejeweled gold pin in the shape of a bee was an unprotected "idea"); Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Honora Jewelry Co., 509 F.2d 64, 65-66 (2d Cir.1974) (same for turtle pins); Great Importations, Inc. v. Caffco Int'l, Inc., No. 95 Civ. 0514, 1997 WL 414111, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 1997) (M.J.) ("To the degree the similarities between the two sculptures herein are simply because they are both three-piece sets of candleholders in the shape of the letters J, O and Y with baby angels and holly, those similarities are non-copyrightable ideas....").

    189

    This case does not concern any kind of gimmick, and the Court ventures no opinion about the applicability of the idea/expression dichotomy to any product that embodies a gimmick, including toys or other objects that combine function and design.

    190

    [81] See Gross v. Seligman, 212 F. 930, 931 (2d Cir.1914); Kaplan v. Stock Market Photo Agency, Inc., 133 F.Supp.2d 317, 323 (S.D.N.Y.2001); Andersson v. Sony Corp. of Am., No. 96 Civ. 7975(RO), 1997 WL 226310, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 2, 1997); Kisch v. Ammirati & Puris Inc., 657 F.Supp. 380, 382 (S.D.N.Y.1987); Pagano v. Chas. Beseler Co., 234 F. 963, 964 (S.D.N.Y.1916).

    191

    [82] The terminology can be still more confused. Consider this sentence, in a section of an opinion analyzing what was original, and hence protectible, in a photograph created by a freelancer in accordance with instructions from a defendant: "[D]efendants conclude that Fournier cannot assert copyright protection, to the extent that he does, over the expression of businessmen in traditional dress on their way to work, an idea which originated with McCann in any event." Fournier v. Erickson, 202 F.Supp.2d 290, 295 (S.D.N.Y.2002) (emphases added).

    192

    [83] 274 F.2d at 489.

    193

    [84] Newman, New Lyrics for an Old Melody, supra, at 697.

    194

    [85] 720 F.2d 231 (2d Cir.1983).

    195

    In that case, which considered the question whether the protagonist of the television series The Greatest American Hero infringed the copyright in the Superman character, Judge Newman observed that a tension between two different propositions dealing with the significance of differences between an allegedly infringing work and a copyrighted work "perhaps results from [those propositions'] formulation in the context of literary works and their subsequent application to graphic and three-dimensional works." Id. at 241.

    196

    [86] Newman, New Lyrics for an Old Melody, supra, at 698.

    197

    [87] Franklin Mint Corp. v. Nat'l Wildlife Art Exchange, Inc., 575 F.2d 62, 65 (3d Cir.1978); accord Kisch v. Ammirati & Puris Inc., 657 F.Supp. 380, 383 (S.D.N.Y.1987).

    198

    [88] 960 F.2d at 308 (first emphasis added).

    199

    [89] Def. Br. 6. See supra.

    200

    [90] See SHL Imaging, Inc. v. Artisan House, Inc., 117 F.Supp.2d 301, 314 (S.D.N.Y.2000) ("defendants' instructions were so general as to fall within the realm of unprotectible ideas. Thus, they cannot substantiate a work-for-hire authorship defense." (emphasis added)); Andersson v. Sony Corp., No. 96 Civ. 7975(RO), 1997 WL 226310, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 2, 1997) ("What these two photos may arguably share, the idea of a woman in futuristic garb becoming fascinated with an object held in her hand, is simply not protectible." (emphasis added)); Gentieu v. Tony Stone Images/Chicago, Inc., 255 F.Supp.2d 838, 849 (N.D.Ill.2003) ("Gentieu cannot claim a copyright in the idea of photographing naked or diapered babies or in any elements of expression that are intrinsic to that unprotected idea. Clearly the `poses' at issue in Gentieu's images capture the natural movements and facial expressions of infants.... Such poses are implicit in the very idea of a baby photograph and are not proper material for protection under Gentieu's copyrights." (emphases added)).

    201

    It is interesting to note that United Kingdom law faces a similar terminological problem and that the solution of Laddie and supporting authorities is to conclude that the generality of an "idea" is what determines its protectability:

    202

    "Confusion is caused in the law of copyright because of the use of the catchphrase `There is no copyright in ideas but only in the form of their expression'. Unless one understands what this means its utility is non-existent, or it is positively misleading. An artistic work of the imagination presupposes two kinds of ingredients: the conception of one or more ideas, and artistic dexterity and skill in their representation in the chosen medium. It is not the law that copyright protects the second kind of ingredient only. If that were so a debased copy which failed to capture the artist's dexterity and skill would not infringe, which plainly is not the case. Unless an artist is content merely to represent a pre-existent object (eg a building) or scene, it is part of his task as artist to exercise his imagination and in so doing he may create a pattern of ideas for incorporation in his finished work. This idea-pattern may be as much part of his work, and deserving of copyright protection, as the brushstrokes, pencil-lines, etc. The true proposition is that there is no copyright in a general idea, but that an original combination of ideas may [be protected]." 1 LADDIE § 4.43, at 212 (footnote omitted).

    203

    [91] 133 F.Supp.2d at 323 (emphases added).

    204

    [92] Yurman Design, Inc. v. PAJ, Inc., 262 F.3d 101, 111 (2d Cir.2001) (quoting Hamil America, Inc. v. GFI, 193 F.3d 92, 100 (2d Cir.1999) (quoting Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., 274 F.2d 487, 489 (2d Cir.1960)) (internal quotation marks omitted)); accord Boisson v. Banian, Ltd., 273 F.3d 262, 272 (2d Cir.2001) (quoting Folio Impressions, Inc. v. Byer California, 937 F.2d 759, 765 (2d Cir.1991)).

    205

    [93] Hamil America, Inc., 193 F.3d at 101; accord Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996, 1002 (2d Cir.1995); Folio Impressions, 937 F.2d at 765-66; see also Boisson, 273 F.3d at 272.

    206

    [94] Boisson, 273 F.3d at 272 (citing Knitwaves, 71 F.3d at 1003); accord Hamil America, 193 F.3d at 101.

    207

    [95] 338 F.3d 127 (2d Cir.2003).

    208

    [96] See 237 F.Supp.2d 376, 386-88 (S.D.N.Y.2002).

    209

    [97] 338 F.3d at 130 (emphasis in original).

    210

    [98] Id. at 134-35 (emphasis in original).

    211

    [99] Id. at 132-33 (quoting Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., 81 F.2d 49, 56 (2d Cir.1936)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

    212

    [100] 4 NIMMER § 13.03[B][1][a], at 13-63.

    213

    [101] 657 F.Supp. 380, 384 (S.D.N.Y.1987).

  • 5 Swirsky v. Carey (2004)

    1
    376 F.3d 841
    2
    Seth SWIRSKY, an individual d/b/a Julian's Dad; Warryn Campbell, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
    v.
    Mariah CAREY; James Harris, III; Terry Lewis; Flyte Time Productions, Inc., an entity of unknown designation, e/s/a Flyte Tyme Tunes, Inc.; ATV Songs LLC; Rye Songs; Columbia Records; Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.; EMI April Music, Defendants-Appellees.
    3
    No. 03-55033.
    4
    United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
    5
    Argued and Submitted February 3, 2004.
    6
    Filed July 12, 2004.
    7
    As Amended on Denial of Rehearing August 24, 2004.
    8

    [843] Jonathan D. Freund (argued), Craig A. Huber, Freund & Brackey LLP, Beverly Hills, CA, for the plaintiffs-appellants.

    9

    Robert M. Dudnik, Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for the defendants-appellees.

    10

    Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; Christina A. Snyder, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-00-09926-CAS.

    11

    Before CANBY, JR., NOONAN, and THOMAS, Circuit Judges.

    12

    CANBY, Circuit Judge.

    13

    The plaintiffs, Seth Swirsky and Warryn Campbell, brought this action in district court, alleging that a song produced by the defendants infringed the plaintiffs' copyright in the song, "One of Those Love Songs." The defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiffs' evidence failed to meet this circuit's threshold "extrinsic test" for substantial similarity of works. The district court granted the motion, holding that the plaintiffs' expert had failed to show by external, objective criteria that the two songs shared a similarity of ideas and expression. Plaintiffs appeal. We conclude that the plaintiffs' expert's evidence was sufficient to present a triable issue of the extrinsic similarity of the two songs, and that the district court's ruling to the contrary was based on too mechanical an application of the extrinsic test to these musical compositions. We also conclude that the district court erred in ruling portions of plaintiffs' song to be unprotectable by copyright as a matter of law. We accordingly reverse the summary judgment.

    14
    Factual Background
    15

    This case concerns the alleged similarity between the choruses of two popular and contemporary rhythm and blues ("R & B") songs: plaintiffs'"One of Those Love Songs" ("One") and Mariah Carey's "Thank God I Found You" ("Thank God"). One was jointly composed by plaintiffs Seth Swirsky and Warryn Campbell (collectively "Swirsky") in 1997. Pursuant to a licensing agreement, One was recorded [844] by the musical group Xscape and released in May 1998 on Xscape's album "Traces of My Lipstick." Thank God was composed by defendants Carey, James Harris III, and Terry Lewis in 1999 and was released on Carey's album "Rainbow" in November 1999.

    16

    One and Thank God have generally dissimilar lyrics and verse melodies, but they share an allegedly similar chorus that Swirsky claims as an infringement of One's copyright.[1] Swirsky filed this action in district court against Carey, Harris, Lewis, and a number of music companies that had financial interests in Thank God (collectively "Carey") for copyright infringement and related claims.[2] The defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that Swirsky had failed to present a triable issue on the required first, or "extrinsic," part of our circuit's two-part test for the establishment of substantial similarity necessary to sustain a claim of copyright infringement. The defendants also contended that portions of One were not protectable by copyright. The district court agreed with both contentions and granted summary judgment to Carey. Swirsky moved for reconsideration, which the district court denied. This appeal followed.

    17
    Substantial Similarity
    18

    We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. See Smith v. Jackson, 84 F.3d 1213, 1218(9th Cir.1996). We may uphold the summary judgment only if we find that "no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity of ideas and expression [between One and Thank God], viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. (quoting Kouf v. Walt Disney Pictures & Television, 16 F.3d 1042, 1045 (9th Cir.1994)); Narell v. Freeman, 872 F.2d 907, 909-910 (9th Cir.1989). If Swirsky presented "indicia of a sufficient disagreement concerning the substantial similarity of [the] two works," then the case must be submitted to a trier of fact. Brown Bag Software v. Symantec Corp., 960 F.2d 1465, 1472 (9th Cir.1992) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

    19

    To establish a successful copyright infringement claim, Swirsky must show that (1) he owns the copyright in One and (2) Carey copied protected elements of One. See Rice v. Fox Broad. Co., 330 F.3d 1170, 1174 (9th Cir.2003) (Rice I); Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. For purposes of summary judgment, Carey conceded that Swirsky owns a valid copyright in One. The element of copying is rarely the subject of direct evidence; Swirsky may establish copying by showing that Carey had access to One and that Thank God was substantially similar to One in One's protected elements. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218; Metcalf v. Bochco, 294 F.3d 1069, 1072(9th Cir.2002). Where a high degree of access is shown, we require a lower standard of proof of substantial similarity. See Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton, 212 F.3d 477, 485(9th Cir.2000); Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. For the purposes of summary judgment, Carey conceded that she had a high degree of access to One.[3] Swirsky's [845] burden of proof of substantial similarity is thus commensurately lowered.

    20

    In determining whether two works are substantially similar, we employ a two-part analysis: an objective extrinsic test and a subjective intrinsic test. For the purposes of summary judgment, only the extrinsic test is important because the subjective question whether works are intrinsically similar must be left to the jury. See Rice I, 330 F.3d at 1174; Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. If Swirsky cannot present evidence that would permit a trier of fact to find that he satisfied the extrinsic test, he necessarily loses on summary judgment because a "jury may not find substantial similarity without evidence on both the extrinsic and intrinsic tests." Rice I, 330 F.3d at 1174 (quoting Kouf, 16 F.3d at 1045).

    21

    The extrinsic test considers whether two works share a similarity of ideas and expression as measured by external, objective criteria.[4] See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. The extrinsic test requires "analytical dissection of a work and expert testimony." Three Boys, 212 F.3d at 485. "Analytical dissection" requires breaking the works "down into their constituent elements, and comparing those elements for proof of copying as measured by `substantial similarity.'" Rice v. Fox Broad. Co., 148 F.Supp.2d 1029, 1051 (C.D.Cal.2001), reversed on other grounds, 330 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir.2003) (Rice II). Because the requirement is one of substantial similarity to protected elements of the copyrighted work, it is essential to distinguish between the protected and unprotected material in a plaintiff's work. See Rice I, 330 F.3d at 1174; Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 35 F.3d 1435, 1443(9th Cir.1994); Brown Bag, 960 F.2d at 1475-76.

    22

    The expert testimony on which Swirsky relied was that of Dr. Robert Walser, chair of the Musicology Department at the University of California at Los Angeles. On the basis of his aural assessment[5] of One and Thank God, Dr. Walser opined that the two songs had substantially similar choruses.

    23

    Dr. Walser admitted that the lyrics and verse melodies of the two songs differed "clearly and significantly," but stated that the two songs' choruses shared a "basic shape and pitch emphasis" in their melodies, which were played over "highly similar basslines[6] and chord changes, at very nearly the same tempo and in the same generic style."[7] Dr. Walser also noted that it was a "suspicious coincidence" that the two songs' choruses were both sung in B-flat. Dr. Walser further testified that the choruses in both One and Thank God shared a similar structure in that measures five through seven of each chorus were "almost exactly" the same as the first three measures of each chorus.

    24

    [846] Dr. Walser also noted a number of differences between the two songs' choruses. Dr. Walser found that the fourth measures of the choruses were "dramatically different" from each other and noted that while the "basic, emphasized pitches and rhythms" of the basslines were alike, the basslines to both choruses were "ornamented and played slightly differently from chorus to chorus." Dr. Walser also found that certain "text-setting choices"[8] created differences between the two songs' choruses. For example, he noted that in Thank God, Carey sings "D, scale degree three, for a full beat on the first beat of the first measure" while Xscape in One sings the same pitch "divided into two eight-note pulses." Dr. Walser ultimately concluded, however, that these differences were not enough to differentiate the songs because the overall emphasis on musical notes was the same, which "contribute [d] to the impression of similarity one hears when comparing the two songs."

    25

    Dr. Walser transcribed his aural impressions into a series of visual "transcriptions." Dr. Walser created a transcription of each chorus' pitch sequence, melody,[9] and bassline. Dr. Walser labeled his transcription of the basslines a"reduction" because he transcribed only the "basic, emphasized pitches and rhythms." Dr. Walser thus did not include any bassline notes or pitches he found to be "ornamented" in his transcriptions.[10]

    26

    The district court found this evidence insufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment for four reasons. First, the district court found that Dr. Walser's expert methodology was flawed. Second, the district court, using its own analysis, found that no triable issue was raised as to the substantial similarity of measures two, three, six, seven, and eight of the two choruses. Third, the district court held that measures one and five of One were scenes a faire,[11] and thus incapable of supporting a finding of infringement. Finally, the district court discounted any similarity between the two choruses based on key, harmony, tempo, or genre because it found no precedent for substantial similarity to be "founded solely on similarities in key, harmony, tempo or genre, either alone or in combination." We disagree with much of the district court's reasoning on all four points and conclude that Swirsky has satisfied the extrinsic test because he has provided "indicia of a sufficient disagreement concerning the substantial similarity of [the] two works." Brown Bag, 960 F.2d at 1472 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

    27
    A. Dr. Walser's Methodology
    28

    There is nothing inherently unsound about Dr. Walser's musicological methodology in this case. The district court is correct that Dr. Walser's methodology is "selective," in as much as it discounts notes that he characterizes as "ornamental." Dr. Walser, however, explained [847] that the melody (pitch and rhythm) and bassline of a song cannot be divorced from the harmonic rhythm of a song. According to Dr. Walser, notes falling on the beat will be more prominent to the ear than notes falling off the beat. Thus, Dr. Walser opined that, even though measure three of both choruses were not identical in numerical pitch sequence or note selection, they both "emphasize [d] the second scale degree, C, over an A in the bass, resolving to the third scale degree, D, over a D in the bass in the last half of the measure." Dr. Walser provided a comparable analysis for measures one, three, and eight.

    29

    Similarly, Dr. Walser explained that some artists will ornament their notes in ways that others do not. Dr. Walser testified at deposition that both Carey and Xscape ornament their notes with "melismas" and "appoggiaturas," both of which are technical terms for moving up to the next note and then back again. Dr. Walser testified that he did not notate these ornaments in his transcriptions, or take them into account in his opinion, because he "took that to be a matter of the singer customizing the song and regarded those notes as not structural; they are ornamental." As we said in Newton v. Diamond, 349 F.3d 591 (2003), we can "consider only [the defendant's] appropriation of the song's compositional elements and must remove from consideration all the elements unique to [Plaintiff's] performance." Id. at 595. Dr. Walser's methodology sought to remove notes he perceived as performance-related.

    30

    To a certain extent, Dr. Walser's methodology does concentrate on how the two choruses sound to his expert ears, which led the district court to conclude that his testimony related to intrinsic and not extrinsic similarity. We do not agree, however, that Dr. Walser's testimony was an intrinsic rather than extrinsic analysis. He was not testifying, as the intrinsic test would require, as to whether subjectively the "ordinary, reasonable person would find the total concept and feel of the [two choruses] to be substantially similar." Three Boys, 212 F.3d at 485(quoting Pasillas v. McDonald's Corp., 927 F.2d 440, 442 (9th Cir.1991)). Instead, he was stating that, although the two choruses are not exactly identical on paper, when examined in the structural context of harmony, rhythm, and meter, they are remarkably similar. We, therefore, cannot accept the district court's conclusion that Dr. Walser did not "adequately explain, based on objective criteria, why [his] particular subset of notes is more important, or more appropriately analyzed, than the other notes present in the songs." The district court erred in completely discounting Dr. Walser's expert opinion.

    31
    B. The District Court's Measure-by-Measure Analysis
    32

    The district court also erred by basing its comparison of the two choruses almost entirely on a measure-by-measure comparison of melodic note sequences from the full transcriptions of the choruses.[12] Objective analysis of music under the extrinsic test cannot mean that a court may simply compare the numerical representations of pitch sequences and the visual representations of notes to determine that two choruses are not substantially similar, without regard to other elements [848] of the compositions. Under that approach, expert testimony would not be required at all, for any person untrained in music could conclude that "2-2-2-2-2-2-1-2-1-3" did not match "2-2-4-3-2-3" or that a half-note is not identical to an eighth-note. Certainly, musicological experts can disagree as to whether an approach that highlights stressed notes, as Dr. Walser's does, is the most appropriate way to break down music for substantial-similarity comparison, but no approach can completely divorce pitch sequence and rhythm from harmonic chord progression, tempo, and key, and thereby support a conclusion that compositions are dissimilar as a matter of law. It is these elements that determine what notes and pitches are heard in a song and at what point in the song they are found. To pull these elements out of a song individually, without also looking at them in combination, is to perform an incomplete and distorted musicological analysis.[13]

    33

    Furthermore, to disregard chord progression, key, tempo, rhythm, and genre is to ignore the fact that a substantial similarity can be found in a combination of elements, even if those elements are individually unprotected. See Satava v. Lowry, 323 F.3d 805, 811 (9th Cir.2003); Apple Computer, 35 F.3d at 1445. Thus, although chord progressions may not be individually protected, if in combination with rhythm and pitch sequence, they show the chorus of Thank God to be substantially similar to the chorus of One, infringement can be found. See Three Boys, 212 F.3d at 485; Satava, 323 F.3d at 811.[14]

    34

    We recognize the difficulties faced by the district court in this case. We have referred to "the turbid waters of the `extrinsic test' for substantial similarity under the Copyright Act." Metcalf, 294 F.3d at 1071. The application of the extrinsic test, which assesses substantial similarity of ideas and expression, to musical compositions is a somewhat unnatural task, guided by relatively little precedent. Music is an art form that "produces sounds and expresses moods," Debra Presti Brent, The Successful Musical Copyright Infringement Suit: The Impossible Dream, 7 U. Miami Ent. & Sports. L.Rev. 229, 244 (1990), but it does not necessarily communicate separately identifiable ideas. The extrinsic test provides an awkward framework to apply to copyrighted works like music or art objects, which lack distinct elements of idea and expression. Nevertheless, the test is our law and we must apply it. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. The extrinsic test does serve the purpose of permitting summary judgment in clear cases of non-infringement, and it informs [849] the fact-finder of some of the complexities of the medium in issue while guiding attention toward protected elements and away from unprotected elements of a composition.

    35

    In analyzing musical compositions under the extrinsic test, we have never announced a uniform set of factors to be used. We will not do so now. Music, like software programs and art objects, is not capable of ready classification into only five or six constituent elements; music is comprised of a large array of elements, some combination of which is protectable by copyright.[15] For example, in Three Boys we upheld a jury finding of substantial similarity based on the combination of five otherwise unprotectable elements: (1) the title hook phrase (including the lyric, rhythm, and pitch); (2) the shifted cadence; (3) the instrumental figures; (4) the verse/chorus relationship; and (5) the fade ending. Three Boys, 212 F.3d at 485. Other courts have taken account of additional components of musical compositions, including melody, harmony, rhythm, pitch, tempo, phrasing, structure, chord progressions, and lyrics. See Ellis v. Diffie, 177 F.3d 503, 506(6th Cir.1999) (noting that the district court had compared idea, phraseology, lyrics, rhythms, chord progressions, "melodic contours," structures, and melodies under "ordinary observer" test); Cottrill v. Spears, 2003 WL 21223846, at *9 (E.D.Pa. May 22, 2003) (unpublished disposition) (comparing pitch, chord progression, meter, and lyrics under extrinsic test); Tisi v. Patrick, 97 F.Supp.2d 539, 543 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (analyzing structure, melody, harmony, and rhythm under"striking similarity" test); McKinley v. Raye, 1998 WL 119540, at *5 (N.D.Tex. March 10, 1998) (mem.) (analyzing lyrics, melodies, and song structure); Damiano v. Sony Music Entm't, Inc., 975 F.Supp. 623, 631 (D.N.J.1996) (analyzing instrumentation and melody under the extrinsic test); Sylvestre v. Oswald, 1993 WL 179101, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. May 18, 1993) (analyzing melody and lyrics under "striking similarity" test); Intersong-USA v. CBS, Inc., 757 F.Supp. 274, 280 (S.D.N.Y.1991) (analyzing chord progression, structure, pitch, and harmony under substantial similarity[16] test). In addition, commentators have opined that timbre, tone, spatial organization, consonance, dissonance, accents, note choice, combinations, interplay of instruments, basslines, and new technological sounds can all be elements of a musical composition. See Brent, supra, at 248-89; Stephanie J. Jones, Music Copyright in Theory and Practice: An Improved Approach for Determining Substantial Similarity, 31 Duq. L.Rev. 277, 294-95 (1993).

    36

    There is no one magical combination of these factors that will automatically substantiate a musical infringement suit; each allegation of infringement will be unique. So long as the plaintiff can demonstrate, through expert testimony that addresses some or all of these elements and supports its employment of them, that the similarity was "substantial" and to "protected elements" of the copyrighted work, the extrinsic test is satisfied. Swirsky has met that standard here.

    37
    C. Scenes a Faire Analysis
    38

    The district court erred in finding the first and fifth measures of One to [850] be unprotectable by reason of the scenes a faire doctrine.[17] Scenes a faire analysis requires the court to examine whether "motive"[18] similarities that plaintiffs attribute to copying could actually be explained by the common-place presence of the same or similar "motives" within the relevant field. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1219. Under the scenes a faire doctrine, when certain commonplace expressions are indispensable and naturally associated with the treatment of a given idea, those expressions are treated like ideas and therefore not protected by copyright. See Rice I, 330 F.3d at 1175. The district court held that the first and fifth measures of One were not protected by copyright because Dr. Walser admitted in his deposition that the pitch sequence of the first measure of One' s chorus was more similar to the pitch sequence in the first measure of the folk song "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" ("Jolly Good") than to the pitch sequence in the first measure of Thank God's chorus.[19]

    39

    The evidence does not support the district court's ruling that the first measure of One is a scene a faire as a matter of law. The songs One and Jolly Good are not in the same relevant "field" of music; One is in the hip-hop/R & B genre and Jolly Good is in the folk music genre. Thus, comparing the first measure of One' s chorus to the first measure of Jolly Good does not tell the court whether the first measure of One' s chorus is an indispensable idea within the field of hip-hop/R & B. Further, even if One and Jolly Good were in the same genre of music, a musical measure cannot be "common-place" by definition if it is shared by only two songs.[20] One and Jolly Good are also written in different time signatures; One is in 4/4 while Jolly Good is in 6/8. Their chord progressions also differ (B-flat to B-flat(sus4) to B-flat in One and G in Jolly Good). This difference further undermines Carey's argument that the two measures are the same as a matter of law.

    40

    The district court also erred in finding the fifth measure of One to be a scene a faire as a matter of law. Carey introduced no independent evidence showing that measure five of One was more similar to Jolly Good than Thank God; she relied exclusively on Dr. Walser's opinion that measure five was "almost identical" to measure one of One. As we have already pointed out, on summary judgment, "almost identical" and "identical" are not equivalents, especially in light of Dr. Walser's transcriptions showing that measure five of One is different in pitch sequence from measure one of One. It is inappropriate to grant summary judgment on the basis of scenes a faire without independent evidence, unless the allegation of scenes a faire is uncontested. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1220. It was contested here.

    41
    Other Claims of Lack of Copyright Protection
    42

    Because we may affirm the grant of summary judgment on any basis supported [851] by the record, see Newton, 349 F.3d at 594, Carey offers two additional arguments, not reached by the district court, why the summary judgment should be affirmed. Carey first argues that, wholly apart from the scenes a faire doctrine, the first measure of One' s chorus is not protectable because it lacks originality as a matter of law. Because One has a valid certificate of registration with the copyright office, however, Swirsky is entitled to a presumption of originality. See 17 U.S.C. § 410(c) (2003) (citing that presumption of originality extends for five years from date of copyright registration);[21] Three Boys, 212 F.3d at 488-89. Carey can overcome this presumption only by demonstrating that Swirsky's chorus is not original. See id.

    43

    In this circuit, the definition of originality is broad, and originality means "little more than a prohibition of actual copying." Three Boys, 212 F.3d at 489(quoting North Coast Indus. v. Jason Maxwell, Inc., 972 F.2d 1031, 1033(9th Cir.1992)). All that is needed to satisfy originality is for the author to contribute "something more than a `merely trivial' variation." Id.; see also ETS-Hokin v. Skyy Spirits, Inc., 225 F.3d 1068, 1073 (9th Cir.2000)(referring to "the low threshold for originality under the Copyright Act"). Carey argues that the first measure of One's chorus is not original because it is "substantially similar" to the first measure of Jolly Good.[22] See North Coast, 972 F.2d at 1033-34. The two measures may share the same pitch sequence, but they are not identical in meter, tempo, or key. There is, therefore, a triable issue whether there are more than "merely trivial" differences between the two works. Carey's contention that the first measure of Swirsky's chorus is not original as a matter of law accordingly fails.

    44

    Although the first measure of One' s chorus and the first measure of Jolly Good may share the same pitch sequence, they are not identical in meter, tempo, or key. There is, therefore, a triable issue whether there are more than "merely trivial" differences between the two works. Carey's contention that the first measure of Swirsky's chorus is not original as a matter of law fails.

    45

    Carey next argues that the first measure of One is a mere "musical idea," not protectable under the Copyright Act. Carey relies on Dr. Walser's testimony that the first measure of One was a "short musical idea." Carey's reasoning is fallacious for a number of reasons, the most basic being that a musicologist is not an expert on what the term "idea" means under the copyright laws. Labeling something as a "musical idea" does not necessarily bear on whether it is also an "idea" under the copyright laws and unprotectable for that reason.

    46

    No federal court has stated that a musical motive is not protectable because it is an idea. Nor does the "musical idea" of the first measure of Swirsky's chorus lack protection because of its brevity. Although it is true that a single musical note would be too small a unit to attract copyright protection (one would not want to give the first author a monopoly over the note of B-flat for example), an arrangement of a limited number of notes can garner copyright protection. See Elsmere Music, Inc. v. Nat'l Broad. Co., 482 F.Supp. 741, 744 (S.D.N.Y.1980) (finding that four notes were substantial enough to be protected by copyright); Santrayll v.[852] Burrell, 1996 WL 134803, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar.25, 1996) (mem.order) (finding that the repetition of the word "uh-oh" four times in a distinctive rhythm for one measure is sufficiently original to render it protectable under the copyright laws). This Court has stated that "[e]ven if a copied portion be relatively small in proportion to the entire work, if qualitatively important, the finder of fact may properly find substantial similarity." Baxter v. MCA, Inc., 812 F.2d 421, 425(9th Cir.1987). The melodic line in the first measure of One is seven notes long. It cannot be said as a matter of law that seven notes is too short a length to garner copyright protection. We therefore reject this challenge to the protection of the first measure of One's chorus.

    47
    Evidentiary Arguments
    48

    Swirsky challenges two evidentiary rulings of the district court, which we address because the issues may arise again in further proceedings on remand. We review for abuse of discretion the district court's decision to admit or exclude evidence. See Los Angeles News Serv. v. Tullo, 973 F.2d 791, 800 (9th Cir.1992).

    49
    A. The Work Session Tape
    50

    The district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit a tape of Carey's "work session" that Swirsky offered as evidence of direct copying. Although there is no explicit ruling by the district court on Swirsky's offer to introduce the tape other than a passing reference in the minute order denying Swirsky's motion for reconsideration, that omission is not in and of itself an abuse of discretion. See GoTo.com, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 202 F.3d 1199, 1209-1210 (9th Cir.2000) (stating that a district court's silence in regard to a ruling is not abuse of discretion if the record supports the court's decision).

    51

    The work session tape that Swirsky sought to introduce demonstrated only that Carey came into the studio with the melody to the chorus of Thank God in her head. The fact that a composer or singer has a melody in her head does not necessarily demonstrate direct copying; the melody could easily be the product of her own creative processes, conscious or subconscious. It was thus not a clear error of judgment for the district court to refuse to admit the work session tape.

    52
    B. The Bassline Transcriptions
    53

    The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting defense expert Anthony Ricigliano's bassline transcriptions of One and Thank God. Swirsky objected to the admission of Ricigliano's transcriptions on the grounds of lack of personal knowledge or foundation, hearsay, lack of authentication, and relevance. Ricigliano's transcriptions, however, appear to have been admitted for the limited purpose of showing what the two choruses' basslines "looked like" before being reduced by Dr. Walser.[23] In his deposition, Dr. Walser testified that Ricigliano's bassline transcriptions were accurate. Whether Dr. Walser's methodology was complete and accurate in comparing the two songs' choruses is obviously relevant. Further, Ricigliano's transcriptions were not introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but simply to give the court a complete transcription of the basslines. The transcriptions are therefore not hearsay. See Fed.R.Evid. 801(c). Finally, because Swirsky's own expert, Dr. Walser, admitted the accuracy of Ricigliano's transcriptions, there was no foundation or authentication [853] problem. See Fed.R.Evid. 901(a) and (b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). We therefore reject Swirsky's evidentiary challenges.

    54
    Conclusion
    55

    We conclude that Swirsky's expert adequately explained his methodology and provided "indicia of a sufficient disagreement concerning the substantial similarity of two works" so that the issue of the substantial similarity of the two choruses should have been presented to a jury. Brown Bag, 960 F.2d at 1472 (internal quotations and citation omitted). We further conclude that the district court erred in ruling as a matter of law that measures one and five of One were scenes a faire. Finally, we reject Carey's contention that these measures were unprotectable as a matter of law on the grounds that they were unoriginal or mere musical ideas. We therefore reverse the summary judgment and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.[24]

    56

    REVERSED and REMANDED.

    57

    [1] Swirsky also claims that the piano introduction to Thank God infringes Swirsky's copyright because the introduction is essentially a piano version of Thank God' s chorus. To the extent this is the case, Swirsky's claim that the introduction infringes his copyright depends on whether Thank God's chorus is substantially similar to One' s chorus.

    58

    [2] On this appeal the parties present issues related only to the copyright infringement claim.

    59

    [3] A number of the people involved in recording One were also involved in the recording of Thank God. Both songs were mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering, produced by Sony Music Entertainment, and distributed through Columbia Records. Jermaine Dupri served as a producer to both albums and Kandi Burress, one of the former members of Xscape, co-wrote the song "X-Girlfriend" with Carey for the "Rainbow" album.

    60

    [4] Although the extrinsic test examines the similarity of ideas and expression, it must be kept in mind that ideas by themselves are not subject to copyright protection; only the expression of ideas is. See Rice I, 330 F.3d at 1174.

    61

    [5] Dr. Walser did not compare sheet music in arriving at his expert opinion. Neither One nor Thank God was originally composed using sheet music.

    62

    [6] A bassline (often written "bass line") is defined as "[t]he succession of the lowest notes in a passage (or composition) which `support' the other parts and are mainly responsible for the harmonic progression." Grove Music Online, at http://www.grovemusic.com.

    63

    [7] Dr. Walser identified the style as "contemporary R & B or `urban' music."

    64

    [8] Dr. Walser stated that text-setting choices mean that some pitches are repeated in one song while they are held in another.

    65

    [9] Melody is a function of both pitch (i.e. the steps, or tones, on the scale) and rhythm (i.e. time values and relationships between the notes) of a series of notes.

    66

    [10] Carey introduced bassline transcriptions of the two choruses made by Carey's expert, Anthony Ricigliano, to show the notes that Dr. Walser had omitted from his reduction.

    67

    [11] As we discuss more fully below, scenes a faire are common expressions indispensable to the expression of particular ideas in a relevant field; they are treated as unprotectable by copyright, in the manner of ideas. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1219.

    68

    [12] The district court did not separately analyze measures four, six and seven. The district court accepted Dr. Walser's testimony that the fourth measures of the two songs' choruses were "dramatically different." The district court found that it did not need to analyze measures six and seven separately because Dr. Walser had opined that they were "almost identical" to measures one, two and three.

    69

    [13] In fact, concentration solely on pitch sequence may break music down beyond recognition. If a musician were provided with a group of notes identified only by numerical pitch sequences, he or she could play that music a number of different ways, none of them being substantially similar to each other. In order to perform a song exactly, the musician would need information about key, harmony, rhythm, and tempo — the type of information not included in the district court's comparison.

    70

    [14] The district court also erred in not separately analyzing measures six and seven of both choruses. Although Dr. Walser stated in his opinion that measures six and seven of One were "almost identical" to measures two and three of One, the district court was bound to view the evidence in the light most favorable to Swirsky. See Smith, 84 F.3d at 1218. The court was not free to conclude that, because measures two and three of Thank God were not substantially similar to corresponding measures of One, measures six and seven could not be substantially similar to those of One. In that sense, "almost identical" cannot be equated with "identical," especially when Dr. Walser's transcriptions showed measure six of One to be different in pitch sequence from measure two of One.

    71

    [15] Literary works, such as books, film, and television shows, are more easily broken into a small number of discrete elements to analyze, namely "plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters and sequence of events." Metcalf, 294 F.3d at 1073 (quoting Kouf, 16 F.3d at 1045).

    72

    [16] The Southern District of New York's substantial similarity test does not differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic analysis.

    73

    [17] The district court did not separately analyze measure five because Dr. Walser had opined that it was "almost identical" to measure one.

    74

    [18] Motive as used here means "an element or a component in a decorative composition." ROGET'S II: THE NEW THESAURUS, THIRD EDITION (1995), available at http://www.bartleby.com/62/47/M1004700.html (last visited May 4, 2004).

    75

    [19] Carey's attorney told Dr. Walser to ignore rhythm when comparing One to Jolly Good.

    76

    [20] Although Carey also argues that the pitch sequence of the first measure of One' s chorus was highly similar to the first measure of the folk song "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" ("Bear Went"), we note that Bear Went and Jolly Good are musically identical songs.

    77

    [21] The copyright was registered in August 1998 and this action was filed in November 2000.

    78

    [22] Carey also argues that the first measure of One is substantially similar to the first measure of Bear Went. Because Bear Went is exactly the same musically, albeit not lyrically, to Jolly Good, the comparison of One to Jolly Good applies with equal force to the comparison between One and Bear Went as well.

    79

    [23]> The district court never "directly" used Ricigliano's transcriptions to compare the choruses of One and Thank God, only to discount Dr. Walser's expert methodology.

    80

    [24] Because we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment, Swirsky's challenge to the denial of his motion to reconsider is moot. See Flowers v. First Hawaiian Bank, 295 F.3d 966, 969 (9th Cir.2002).

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