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
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
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
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.