Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card Co.
429 F.2d 1106 (9th Cir. 1970)

  • Roth made some greeting cards containing original illustrations and some very common, public domain phrases (like "I Love You"). United made some cards with their own, very similar illustrations, and the same exact phrases. Roth sued for copyright infringement.
    • United argued that the illustrations were different, and the phrases were not copyrightable, so they weren't infringing on any of Roth's rights.
  • The Trial Court found for United. Roth appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the common words were not copyrightable.
    • The Court found that Roth's illustrations were copyrightable, but since United used different illustrations, they were not infringing.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that all of the elements of the greeting card should be taken as a whole.
      • As a whole, the greeting cards represent a tangible expression of an idea.
    • The Court found that 'as a whole' the greeting cards were copyrightable as a compilation, and United was infringing on the copyright by making cards that were very similar.
      • A compilation is a work formed by collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.
  • In a dissent it was argued that no individual component would constitute an infringement, so how could the whole be greater than the sum of its parts?