Boisson v. Banian, Ltd.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

273 F.3d 262 (2d Cir. 2001)

The substantial-similarity test for copyright infringement requires courts to take a more discerning analysis if portions of the original work are taken from the public domain.

Relevant Facts

Judi Boisson (the plaintiff) designed two quilts, School Days I and School Days II, that depicted the alphabet as capital letters and some pictures in square blocks. School Days I showed the alphabet in five horizontal rows, grouping letters in the rows as follows: A-E, F-J, K-O, P-T, U-Y, and Z, with four pictures. The letters were depicted in a variety of fabrics with either solid colors or polka dots. The pictures were a house, a single-starred American flag, a cat, and a basket. Schools Days II used an arrangement of the letters in red, white, and blue.

Vijay Rao, president and owner of Banian, Limited (the defendant), imported three quilts from India that depicted the letters of the alphabet in square blocks. All the quilts, by both the plaintiff and the defendant, used diamond stitching inside of the blocks, with wavy stitching around the borders. The defendant’s three quilts were ABC Green Version I, ABC Green Version II, and ABC Navy. The coloring and pattern contrasting on 20 of the letters were essentially the same on School Days I, ABC Green Version I, and ABC Green Version II. The layout of the blocks ABC Green Version I and ABC Green Version II were five horizontal rows of letters, also grouped A-E, F-J, K-O, P-T, U-Y, and Z with four pictures. The pictures in ABC Green Version I were a cow, a sailboat, a bear, and a star. The pictures in ABC Green Version II replaced ABC Green Version I’s bear with a teddy bear in a flag vest.

The plaintiff sued for copyright infringement. The district court held that the defendant’s quilts were not substantially similar to the plaintiff’s quilts after a bench trial. The district court applied a more discerning substantial-similarity test, because elements of the quilts were in the public domain. However, the court’s analysis did not consider the arrangement of the elements in addition to the individual elements. The plaintiff appealed.

Issue

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Holding & Reasoning

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Concurrence

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Dissent

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Last updated:

December 29, 2020

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Procedural History

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Citations

273 F.3d 262 (2d Cir. 2001)