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L. Batlin & Son, Inc. v. Snyder - 536 F.2d 486 (2nd Cir. 1976)


In order to obtain a copyright upon a reproduction of a work of art under Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. § 5(h), the work must contain some substantial, not merely trivial originality. 


Defendant Jeffrey Snyder doing business as J.S.N.Y. (collectively, "Snyder") obtained a registration of copyright on a plastic "Uncle Sam bank" in Class G ("Works of Art") as "sculpture." It was undisputed that cast-ironUncle Sam banks had been in the public domain for decades. Snyder wanted his bank to be made of plastic and to be shorter than the cast metal types"in order to fit into the required price range and quality and quantity of material to be used. Defendant Etna Products Co., Inc., was Snyder's licensee. Outside the United States, plaintiff L. Batlin & Son, Inc. ("Batlin") manufactured plastic Uncle Sam modeled after a cast-iron version he had seen overseas. When Batlin attempted to import his banks into the U.S., he was notified by the United States Customs Service ("Customs") that his plastic banks were covered by Snyder's copyright and thus Batlin's banks were refused entry. Batlin filed an action in federal district court seeking, inter alia, injunctive relief against Snyder's enforcement of his copyright. The district court granted Batlin a preliminary injunction compelling Snyder to cancel its recordation of a copyright with Customs and restraining Snyder from enforcing that copyright. Snyder appealed.


Was Snyder's copyright valid?




The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court examined both Snyder's plastic bank and the uncopyrighted cast-iron bank and agreed with the district court that there was little probability that Snyder's copyright would be found valid in the trial on the merits on the basis that any variations between Snyder's copyrighted plastic bank and a cast iron bank in the public domain were merely trivial, and thus Snyder's bank was insufficiently "original" to support a copyright. The court observed that to extend copyrightability to minuscule variations would simply put a weapon for harassment in the hands of mischievous copiers intent on appropriating and monopolizing public domain work.

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