Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc.
632 F.2d 989 (2d Cir. 1980)
Kieselstein-Cord was a jewelry
designer who designed two very distinctive silver belt buckles. He
registered the belt buckles with the Copyright Office as 'jewelry.'
Kieselstein-Cord won some
design awards for the belt buckles and they were even placed on display
in a museum.
Pearl started producing
identical belt buckles. Kieselstein-Cord sued for copyright
Pearl argued that
Kieselstein-Cord's copyright was invalid because they weren't works of
art, they were belt buckles, and that utilitarian items (aka useful
articles) are not copyrightable.
The Trial Court found for
Pearl, Kieselstein-Cord appealed.
The Trial Court looked to 17
U.S.C. §101 and found that works
with utilitarian features (like holding up your pants), 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 found that there
was no separability of the
artistic and utilitarian aspects of the belt buckle, so it could not be
A t-shirt with a cartoon on
it is easily separable because
you can easily see how the cartoon could be separated from the t-shirt
itself. But in this case, it was harder to see how the copyrightable
design elements were separable from the functional features of the belt buckle.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Court looked at the belt
buckle and found that it did contain artistic qualities. The Court found
that you could make a belt buckle without some of the distinct features
that Kieselstein-Cord's belt buckle had. Therefore, there was separability.
The Court noted that separability could be either physical or conceptual.
Basically, this case said that
if you can identify some features to a utilitarian item (such as say, a
pattern stamped into a belt buckle) that have no utilitarian purpose, then
those features can be copyrighted, even if the overall function of the
work is to be a utilitarian item.