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.
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?