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Wrench Ltd. Liab. Co. v. Taco Bell Corp - 51 F. Supp. 2d 840 (W.D. Mich. 1999)

Rule:

A promise not to use another's ideas and concepts without paying for them is equivalent to the protection provided by § 106 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. §106. Although rights may be created by a promise, whether express or implied, they do not render a claim for breach of that promise qualitatively different if they are infringed by the same conduct prohibited by the Copyright Act. 

Facts:

Plaintiff artists sued defendant corporation, fast-food restaurant chain, for breach of contract, misappropriation, conversion, and unfair competition after the defendant used a Chihuahua character in its advertising, which was developed by an advertising agency. The artists had also developed a Chihuahua character and discussed possible advertising using the character with one of defendant's representatives; concurrently, defendant discussed a similar concept with the advertising agency. Defendant moved for summary judgment.

Issue:

Were the artists' implied contract claims preempted under the federal Copyright Act?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. The court found that the artists' claims were preempted because they asserted rights that were equivalent to the exclusive rights granted by the Copyright Act and no more. The court granted the defendant corporation's motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff artists' claims were preempted by federal copyright law. Additionally, the artists failed to show novelty in the characteristics of their Chihuahua character.

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