Stein designed a Grecian-style
sculpture of a lady and registered it with the Copyright Office as a
"work of art." Then he turned the sculpture into a lamp (with
the lady holding up a bulb) and began mass producing them.
Mazer started making identical
lamps. Stein sued for copyright infringement.
Mazer argued that the lamp
was ineligible for copyright protection because it was not a "work
of art," it was a lamp.
In general, copyrights are
intended to protect works of art (literature, paintings, sculptures,
etc.) and not utilitarian items such as lamps and furniture.
The Trial Court found for
Mazer. Stein appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found
that a subsequent utilization of a work of art in an article of
manufacture in no way affects its right of the copyright owner to be
protected against infringement of the work of art itself.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that there was no distinction between purely aesthetic articles and
useful works of art.
Basically, this case said that
just because a thing has a utilitarian use (like being a lamp or a
doorknocker), that usefulness doesn't automatically preclude copyright
protection of the artistic/aesthetic parts of the thing.
However, later cases
clarified that a utilitarian item must have some artistic component in
order to be copyrightable, and you need to be able to separate the
artistic component from the utilitarian component.
17 U.S.C. §101 now says that, "such works shall
include works of artistic craftsmanship insofar as their form but not
their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned."
See Kieselstein-Cord v.
Accessories by Pearl, Inc. (632
F.2d 989 (1980)).
Of course in this case, you
could easily separate the 'sculpture' part of the lamp from the
'utilitarian' part of the lamp.