Brandir International, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co.

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Brandir International, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co.
Date decided April 3, 1974

Facts: Steven Levine formed a sculptural piece from wire. That piece later inspired him to create the “Ribbon Rack,” a functional and aesthetic bike rack. He tried to copyright it, and was denied by copyright office b/c no element was capable of independent existence as art piece apart from shape of the useful article.

Procedural History: Appealed within the copyright office, which was denied. Second appeal was denied. District Court granted summary judgment on copyright claim to Defendant Cascade Pacific.

Issue: Is the Ribbon Rack copyrightable? What test should be used?

Arguments: The plaintiff argued that the Ribbon Rack was inspired by a sculpture, so it is artistic. Also argued that the rack itself is very aesthetically pleasing.

Holding: Denicola test should be used for conceptual separability. The Ribbon Rack fails this test.

Reasons: Failed test because the form of the rack is influenced in significant measure by utilitarian concerns, so any aesthetic elements cannot be conceptually separable from utilitarian elements. This is true even though the sculpture which inspired the ribbon rack might have been copyrightable. In final form, the ribbon rack is a product of industrial design. “Indeed, the visually pleasing proportions and symmetricalness of the rack represent design changes made in response to functional concerns”

Judgment: Affirmed

Comments: "Works of art" classification of Copyright Act of 1909 was replaced by reference to "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" in the Copyright Act of 1976, to supply a clear line between copyrightable works of applied art and uncopyrighted works of industrial design. Statutory def. of "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works": if the design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from utilitarian aspects of the article. Conceptual separability: the design of a useful article is not essential for the usefulness of the article. Best Test for conceptual separability: Denicola test: should "depend on the extent to which the work reflects artistic expression uninhibited by functional considerations" Dissent: 1) Denicola test diminishes conceptual separability to its vanishing point 2) Their focus on process or sequence followed by the designer makes copyright protection depend upon largely fortuitous circumstances concerning the design creation. Conceptual separability: the article must stimulate in the mind of the beholder a concept that is separate from the concept evoked by its utilitarian function – the onlooker must perceive an aesthetic concept unrelated to the article’s use.