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
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
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.