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To establish copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C.S. §§ 1-702 a plaintiff must establish ownership of a valid copyright and copying. As copyright is a form of property, the court determines the interests of the parties based on the law of the state with the most significant relationship to the property and the parties. Relevant factors include the nationality of the authors, the place of initial publication, and the country of origin as determined under the Berne Convention, Sept. 9, 1986, 25 U.S.T. 1341. To prove infringement, a plaintiff must prove that defendant actually copied its images and that the copying is illegal because a substantial similarity exits between the defendant's work and the protectible elements of the plaintiff's work. Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a)(1) comprises two prongs, the first of which protects against infringement of unregistered trademarks and the second of which prohibits false advertising.
Plaintiff art library, The Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd., was in the business of acquiring rights to market reproductions of public domain works of art owned by museums and other collections which it obtained either from the owners of the underlying works of art or freelance photographers it hired. Plaintiff claimed to have exclusive rights in photographic transparencies of a number of well-known works of art in museums around the world and to have transformed the transparencies into digital images in which it claimed exclusive rights. Plaintiff contended that the defendant computer software company, Corel Corporation, a corporation engaged chiefly in the creation and marketing of computer software products was marketing in the United States and abroad compact disks containing digital images of many of the same works of art which allegedly were copied from the transparencies, and that the defendant was infringing upon the plaintiff’s copyrights in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Plaintiff likewise claimed that defendant’s actions violated Sections 32(1) and 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a) and were actionable at common law. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint.
Did the plaintiff’s contention hold merit?
The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The court also dismissed the Copyright Act and Lanham Act claims on the merits, and dismissed all other claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court likewise denied plaintiff’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment. The court held that there was nothing recognizable in the author's contribution that set the plaintiff’s reproductions apart from the images of the famous works it copied. Therefore, the images lacked sufficient originality to be copyrightable. Also, the court found no probative similarities between the parties' images and the images in question that were trademarks or service marks; thus, the false advertising claim failed. Additionally, the court lacked jurisdiction over the claims in the United Kingdom and Canada, and there was no independent basis of federal subject matter jurisdiction.