Mazer v. Stein
347 U.S. 201 (1954)

  • 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. Mazer appealed.
    • 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.