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In a copyright infringement case, on summary judgment, only the extrinsic test matters for comparison of literary works. If a plaintiff can show that there is a triable issue of fact under the extrinsic test, the intrinsic test's subjective inquiry must be left to the jury and a defendant's motion for summary judgment must be denied. Conversely, if the plaintiff cannot show a triable issue of fact under the extrinsic test, a defendant necessarily prevails on summary judgment. A jury could not find copyright infringement because there can be no substantial similarity without evidence under both the extrinsic and intrinsic tests.
Wanda and Christopher Cavalier (the "Cavaliers") created copyrighted works involving several characters who were featured in children’s stories. The Cavaliers copyrighted the works in the period from 1992 to 1995. From 1995 through 1998, the Cavaliers submitted more than 280 pages, including their copyrighted works, to Random House and CTW; their works were rejected. Soon thereafter, Random House and CTW jointly published books, and subsequently aired an animated television series, which the Cavaliers alleged were copies of their copyrighted works. Consequently, the Cavaliers sued Random House and CTW for copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C.S. § 101 et seq., trademark infringement under 15 U.S.C.S. § 1051 et seq., and false designation of origin under 15 U.S.C. § 1125 et seq. The United States District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment in favor of Random House and CTW. The Cavaliers appealed.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment to the alleged infringers?
Yes, but only with respect to the copyright infringement claim as to the cover and illustration.
The court reversed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment, limited to the copyright infringement claim as to the cover and illustration, and otherwise affirmed. By applying the extrinsic test, the court held that the alleged infringers' books and television programs were not substantially similar. Some factors included: (1) the authors' stories involved relatively elaborate story lines, while the alleged infringers' works described a simple, discrete group of scenes; (2) the stories did not share any detailed sequence of events; (3) the "total concept and feel" of the authors' stories was more serious and instructional. Regarding the artworks, the court found substantial similarity based on the following: (1) the moon night light design on the extended inside back cover; (2) the illustration of stars relaxing on clouds; and (3) the illustration of stars being polished. Comparison of the night light designs revealed obvious similarities: the choice of a smiling moon or star face with pinkish cheeks surrounded by stars in a specific configuration, and situated above an encircled star "on" button. Finally, because characters in the alleged infringers' works were strongly associated with sources other than the authors, the false designation of origin claim failed.