Brandir International, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co.
834 F.2d 1142 (2d Cir. 1987)

  • Brandir designed a sleek new metal bike rack for people to lock their bikes to.
    • The racks were featured in design magazines and won an award from the Industrial Designers Society.
  • Cascade began copying the bike racks. Brandir sued for copyright infringement.
    • Cascade argued that Brandir could not copyright the bike racks because they weren't works of art, they were utilitarian, and utilitarian items (aka useful articles) are not copyrightable.
  • The Trial Court found for Cascade. Brandir 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."
      • This separablity can be either physical or conceptual.
    • The Court interpreted 101 to mean that, "if design elements reflect a merger of aesthetic and functional considerations, the artist aspects of a work cannot be said to be conceptually separable from the utilitarian elements. Conversely, where design elements can be identified as reflecting the designer's artistic judgment exercised independently of functional influences, conceptual separability exists."
      • Basically, the courts must look at the features of a work and decide if the creator chose those features for design reasons or aesthetic reasons.
        • That's a very subjective standard.
    • The Court looked at the features of the bike rack and found that the form of the bike rack was significantly influenced by utilitarian concerns and not aesthetic concerns. Therefore there was no conceptual separability.
  • Compare this case to Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc. (632 F.2d 989 (2d Cir. 1980)), which came to a different conclusion about conceptual separability.
    • Was Brandir penalized in this case because his design was very minimalist?
      • The test the Court suggests in this case penalizes designers who successfully merge form and function, and favors designers who merely decorate their utilitarian articles with independent representational art as an afterthought.
    • Should it make a difference that Brandir testified that he original conceived of the object as just a piece of abstract art, and only realized after he built it that it would be useful for storing bikes?