Thursday, September 01, 2005

3d Circuit copyright validity decision re registration of a "group" of things

The 3d Circuit recently decided an interesting copyright dispute involving a sculptures made to resemble large rocks inscribed with various poems. I think the court's discussion of the issue of infringement isn't that noteworthy, but its discussion of the validity of the plaintiff's registration is.

In Kay Berry, Inc. v. Taylor Gifts, Inc., No. 04-3809 (3d Cir. Aug. 30, 2005), the plaintiff created a bunch of different rock/poem sculpture products (these were mass-produced items, not, you know, "museum" art). The plaintiff registered them en masse by sending the Copyright Office a catalog containing photos of its entire line of rock/poems. The Copyright Office issued a single registration for "sculptural works with design and text."

The defendant knocked off one of the rock/poems and, when sued, argued that the registration was invalid as a "group registration" under section 408(c)(1) because they weren't "related" enough. The 3d Circuit agreed that the registration wasn't valid under the group registration rules promulgated by the Copyright Office at 37 CFR §§ 202.3(b)(4) -(9), because those rules are the only authority for registration of a "group" of related products, and they don't explicitly extend to a group of sculptural works.

The court, however, said that the registration was valid as a single work registration under 37 CFR § 202.3(b)(3), which permits a single registration of a "published work" of a single claimant such that "all copyrightable elements that are otherwise recognizable as self-contained works . . . are included in a single unit of publication." The court rejected the argument that, for a single work registration under this rule, the works had to be "related."

In a long footnote, the court directed the district court, on remand, to determine the scope of such a copyright. In particular, the court intimated the possibility that a published work containing both new and pre-existing materials may be limited in some way, perhaps to only the expressive material added by the claimant.

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