Williams Electronics, Inc. v. Arctic International, Inc.
685 F.2d 870 (3d Cir. 1982)

  • Williams made a video game called "Defender" that featured images of spaceships and aliens.
    • The computer program was hard-wired into a 'ROM' chip inside of the cabinet.
  • Arctic began producing a knock-off version called "Defense Command" that used pretty much the exact same images and program.
  • Williams sued Arctic for copyright infringement.
  • The Trial Court found for Williams. Arctic appealed.
    • Arctic argued that Williams could not have a copyright on the material because it was not in a fixed medium.
      • 17 U.S.C. 102(a) requires that a work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
      • Arctic argued that since the images move around on a screen and disappear, they don't meet the definition of 'fixed'. Each time the game is played, the images are redrawn over again. In addition, the player controls the action and is in a sense a 'coauthor' of what appears on the screen.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the term fixed should be read to mean "sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be...reproduced or otherwise communicated."
    • In addition, the Court found that the audiovisual work was permanently embodied in the computer code on the ROM.
      • See Midway Manufacturing Co. v. Arctic International Inc. (547 F.Supp. 999 (1982)).
    • The Court found that the player's participation in the game did not withdraw the work from copyright eligibility, because a substantial portion of the images are the same, regardless of how the game is played.