Aliotti v. R. Dakin & Co.

Aliotti v. R. Dakin & Co.

831 F.2d 898 (9th Cir. 1987).

Facts: Plaintiff-Appellant is a designer of craftwork and toys. From 1976-79, she worked on a contract basis for Favorite Things, Inc. a toy manufacturer where she designed soft pillows, stuffed animals and other times directed toward the children’s market. Plaintiff acquired copyrights to items created by them after Favorite Things, Inc. became bankrupt in 1982. In 1978, the president of Favorite Things telephoned the president of Defendant company to ask him if they would be interested in acquiring Favorite Things. During negotiations, Favorite Things sent Defendant sales brochures and pictures of their various products, including photographs of three stuffed-toy dinosaurs which had been designed by Plaintiff and were being marketed as the “Ding-a-Saur” line. During a meeting in 1979, Plaintiff showed Defendant many of her designs as well as prototypes of three additional “Ding-a-Saurs.” Defendant decided not to purchase Favorite Things. In 1979, they began developing their own line of stuffed toy dinosaurs as part of their “Prehistoric Pet” line. The six stuffed animals sold by Defendant were of the same six species as those presented by Plaintiff.

Procedure: The District Court granted summary judgment for Defendant.

Issue: Whether Defendant’s product line constituted infringement of Plaintiff’s product line.

Holding: No.

Analysis: In order to prevail on her copyright claims, Plaintiff must show that she owned the copyrights, that Defendant had access to her designs and that there is “substantial similarity” between her designs and Defendant’s stuffed animals. Since there are genuine issues of material fact on the issues of ownership and access, summary judgment is appropriate on the copyright claims only if no reasonable jury could find the two lines of stuffed animals to be substantially similar to one another.
In order to determine whether one work is substantially similar to another, both extrinsic and intrinsic evaluations must be made. The extrinsic test is satisfied here since both lines of products depict the same subject matter-stuffed dinosaur toys. The intrinsic test fails since no copyright protection may be afforded to the idea of producing stuffed dinosaur toys, or to elements of expression that necessarily follow from the notion of such toys. The two product lines are different in their designs; Defendant’s line did not incorporate elements of Plaintiff’s design which are protectable expressions, such as the shape of the eyes of the toys. On these facts, the court determined that a reasonable observer (a child in this case) would not infer that Defendant manufacturer’s dolls captured the total concept and feel of the copyrighted designs and thus, Defendant cannot be held liable for copyright infringement.

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