July 28, 2014

Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Copyright Claim in Use of Images of "High-End" Furniture

In a summary order handed down December 23, 2012, the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff-appellant Heptagon Creations Ltd's complaint for unfair competition and trade dress infringement, common law unfair competition, and copyright infringement for failing to state a claim. Heptagon Creations Ltd. v. Core Group Marketing LLC, Pleskow & Rael Corp., and Thomas Rael, No. 12-317-cv.

Heptagon, a designer and marketer of high-end custom home furnishings and provider of interior design services, sued defendants for copyright infringement of its ANDRE JOYAU brand furniture. Specifically, Heptagon sued defendants for using images of the ANDRE JOYAU furniture in a reality television show about marketing high-value condominiums in New York City after Heptagon refused to provide actual pieces of furniture for the show. The complaint explains how Heptagon provided images of its furniture to defendants but required an insurance policy before it would lend the furniture itself. Defendants refused to purchase the policy and Heptagon refused to lend the furniture. Defendants created a "virtual" presentation of a condominium with images of ANDRE JOYAU furniture throughout the property. The furniture pieces  involved included: Cocoon Chair, Cross Table, Form Table, Meshu Floor Lamp, Shimne Vase, Sylvan Floor Lamp, Yasu Floor Lamp, Z Stool, and Tate Chaise (several images of which are show below). The amended complaint, which was dismissed, includes a description of each piece, such as this for the Cross Table: "[t]he splintered, unfinished wood of the Cross Table represent non-functional artistic elements which are distinctive of the ANDRE JOYAU 'modern repurposed' style."

Heptagon submitted an application for copyright registration for the ANDRE JOYAU collection. The Copyright Office rejected the application on the basis of functionality, contending that the objects are utilitarian and contain no separable authorship. The amended complaint details the allegedly non-functional aspects of the furniture.

The district court dismissed the complaint based on Heptagon's failure to adequately allege that it owns a valid copyright in the furniture. Specifically, the district court and the Second Circuit found the amended complaint did not "distinguish clearly between physical and conceptual separability." The district court found the amended complaint lacked a clear delineation between physical and conceptual separability. The district court also dismissed the trade dress claims for failing to establish secondary meaning.

The Copyright Office's rejection of Heptagon's application clearly played a role in the district court and Second Circuit's opinion. Heptagon does not appear to have asserted infringement of the two-dimensional images but instead limited its claim to the three-dimensional aspects of the furniture.

Copyright © 2014 Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

Jacob S Wharton, Womble Carlyle Law Firm, Intellectual Property Attorney

Jake devotes his practice primarily to intellectual property dispute resolution, including patent, trademark, and copyright infringement litigation; proceedings before the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board; trade secret misappropriation litigation; antitrust matters; and related intellectual property disputes. Jake has also counseled clients on defamation and trade libel matters. Prior to focusing on dispute resolution, Jake prepared and prosecuted patent applications in the pharmaceutical, agriculture, biotechnology, and life science technologies. Jake has counseled institutional,...


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