Pickett v. Prince
207 F.3d 402 (7th Cir. 2000)

  • A famous rockstar named Prince started referring to himself by a strange unpronounceable symbol. He received a trademark and a copyright on the symbol.
  • A guitar-maker named Pickett started producing guitars in the same shape as the symbol. Soon after, Prince started performing with his own guitar in the same shape as the symbol. Pickett sued, claiming copyright infringement. Prince countersued for the same thing.
    • Prince argued that he held the copyright on the symbol, therefore Pickett was violating it when he made the guitar.
    • Pickett argued that while Prince held the copyright on the symbol, Pickett's guitar was a derivative work and was itself copyrightable.
      • Basically, just because Prince owned the symbol, that didn't mean he could own a guitar shaped like the symbol.
      • So even if Pickett was infringing on Prince's copyright by making the guitar, Prince was infringing on Pickett's copyright on the derivative work by making a copy of Pickett's guitar.
  • The Trial Court found for Prince. Pickett appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Pickett could not make a derivative work based on an original without authorization of the original copyright holder, even if the derivative work contained some original elements.
      • See 17 U.S.C. 103(a), which says that derivative works can get a copyright, but that does not extent to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.
  • Basically, a derivative work can be afforded some copyright protection. However, you can't create a derivative work by infringing on someone else's copyright.
    • If Pickett had gotten Prince's permission to use the symbol, or was using a public domain symbol, then he would have a claim to stop others from making guitars shaped like the symbol. But since his guitar was an infringement of Prince's copyright, he couldn't claim it as a derivative work.