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The notion of using a color to represent a mood or emotion is an idea that does not fall within the protection of copyright. 17 U.S.C.S. § 102(b) provides that copyright protection for an original work of authorship does not extend to any idea regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. Notably, colors themselves are not generally copyrightable. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a). Nor is the "idea" of an emotion copyrightable.
Denise Daniels developed a line of color-coded anthropomorphic characters called The Moodsters, which she pitched to entertainment and toy companies around the country, including The Walt Disney Company. In 2010, Disney began development of its movie Inside Out, which was released in 2015, and centered on five anthropomorphized emotions that live inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl. Subsequently, Daniels filed suit against Disney for breach of an implied-in-fact contract, arising from Disney's failure to compensate Daniels for the allegedly disclosed material used to develop Inside Out. Daniels then filed an amended complaint, joining The Moodsters Company as a co-plaintiff and alleging copyright infringement of both the individual Moodsters characters and the ensemble of characters as a whole. Disney filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Daniels failed to meet the legal standard for copyright in a character. The district court granted Disney’s motion.
Were Daniels’ anthropomorphized characters copyrightable, and were thereby infringed by Disney?
The court held that the district court did not err in holding that certain anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions did not qualify for copyright protection because the notion of using a color to represent a mood or emotion was an idea that did not fall within the protection of copyright under 17 U.S.C.S. § 102(b), colors themselves were not generally copyrightable, and the "idea" of an emotion was not copyrightable. Taken together, these principles meant that Daniels could not copyright the idea of colors or emotions, or the idea of using colors to represent emotions where these ideas were embodied in a character without sufficient delineation and distinctiveness. According to the court, developing a character as an anthropomorphized version of a specific emotion was not sufficient, in itself, to establish a copyrightable character. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.