Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Cover Corp.
773 F.2d 411 (2d Cir. 1985)

  • Barnhart designed plastic torsos that clothing stores used to display clothing. They were sculpted to look just like the human body. Economy copied Barnhart's designs. Barnhart sued for copyright infringement.
    • Economy argued that Barnhart could not copyright the torsos because they weren't works of art, they were utilitarian, and utilitarian items (aka useful articles) are not copyrightable.
  • The Trial Court found for Economy. Barnhart appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to 17 U.S.C. 101 and found that works with utilitarian features are only copyrightable to thee extent that the design features "can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article."
    • The Court distinguished Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc. (632 F.2d 989 (2d Cir. 1980)), which held that a fancy belt buckle was copyrightable, by saying that the belt buckle had features which were not necessary for it to be useful as a belt buckle. However, the torsos did not.
      • Barnhart argued that there was artistic expression in how the torsos were sculpted to look like real human torsos, but the Court found that if they didn't look like real human torsos they wouldn't have worked for modeling clothing effectively. (Alternately, if you took the fancy features away from the belt buckle, it would be drab, but it would still function as a belt buckle.)
  • In a dissent, it was argued that the torsos did have artistic merit, and how it was used should not be a relevant factor in deciding whether to give the work copyright protection. The dissent suggested that under the majority's ruling, if Michangelo's David was used to model sweaters, it would lose copyright protection.