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Magic Mktg. v. Mailing Servs. - 634 F. Supp. 769 (W.D. Pa. 1986)

Rule:

There is a narrow class of cases where even admittedly independent efforts may be deemed too trivial or insignificant to support copyright protection. This class is illustrated by case authority denying copyright protection to fragmentary words and phrases and to forms of expression dictated solely by functional considerations. Such material does not exhibit the minimal level of creativity necessary to warrant copyright protection.

Facts:

Plaintiff, Magic Marketing Inc., was a corporation designing and marketing mass mailing advertising campaigns for business. In December 1983, plaintiff and defendant, Mailing Services of Pittsburgh, Inc., entered into a contract whereby Mailing Services agreed to supply certain letters, forms and envelopes to plaintiff. Mailing Services subcontracted a portion of the printing work to American Paper. Plaintiff alleged that it held a valid copyright in the relevant letters, forms and envelopes. According to plaintiff, Mailing Services infringed its copyright by selling copies of the materials to other customers. Plaintiff further complained that American Paper manufactured and supplied infringing copies of the letters, forms, and envelopes with knowledge of plaintiff’s copyright, thereby plaintiff sued both defendants, Mailing Services and American Paper, for copyright infringement. American Paper moved for summary judgment, arguing the envelopes lacked the level of originality to warrant copyright protection.

Issue:

Were the envelopes in question lacking in originality to warrant copyright protection?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that the envelopes did not exhibit a sufficient degree of creativity to be copyrightable. According to the court, the phrases printed on the envelopes were generic in nature and lacked a minimal degree of creativity necessary for copyright protection. However, the Court noted that plaintiff must be given an opportunity to uncover evidence that may contradict defendants’ position. Therefore, the motion for summary judgment was premature as it related to the forms and letters. The court held that at the conclusion of discovery, defendants may renew its motion for summary judgment.

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