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July 01, 2005
2nd Cir. - Elements of Halloween Costumes May Be Copyrightable
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that elements of Halloween costumes may be copyrightable in a unanimous decision written by the famous Guido Calabresi, former dean of Yale Law School.
This appeal by plaintiff-appellant-cross-appellee Chosun International, Inc. (Chosun) poses the question of whether Halloween costumes, in their entirety or in their individual design elements, are eligible for copyright protection under federal law. The district court (Wood, J.) held that they were not. The court ruled that Halloween costumes were useful articles and hence not copyrightable under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. Accordingly, the court dismissed Chosuns suit for failure to state a viable copyright infringement claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Because the district court failed to conduct a separability analysis prior to dismissing Chosuns complaint, we vacate the district courts judgment and remand for further proceedings.
Read the 10-page decision: Chosen Int'l Inc. v. Chrisa Creations Ltd. [PDF]
The reasoning followed that in a case involving belt-buckle design:
Thus, in Kieselstein-Cord, 632 F.2d 989 (2d Cir. 1980), we concluded that the plaintiffs belt buckle designs were copyrightable. Taken as a whole, the belt undeniably was a useful article which performed the service of preventing ones pants from falling down. The ornate buckle design, however, was conceptually separable from that useful belt function. The design which did not enhance the belts ability to hold up ones trousers could properly be viewed as a sculptural work with independent aesthetic value, and not as an integral element of the belts functionality.
This actually seems a fairly straightfoward decision to me, particularly given the procedural posture of the case. I'm pretty sure the Court got it right.
There is actually a surprising number of intellectual property issues involving Halloween costumes. For example, Chosum International was on the other side of a lawsuit that raised similar issues in 2003. BNA's Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal has a good discussion of the issues involved in the older case (Tiger Costume Is Protectable, But Sales of Similar Costume Can Continue). See also, this patent on weather-resistant Halloween costumes assigned to Chosun: US Patent #6,904,612: Weather and Climate Adaptive Halloween Costume.
via How Appealing
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