The Difference Between Utilitarian and Aesthetic Under Copyright Law
If you’re a designer or design light fixtures, you may want to put down that Rhodia pad and take a look at this. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower-court ruling, finding that the “light fixtures in the instant case are plainly useful articles, as they have an ‘intrinsic utilitarian function’ of providing light to a room.”
The Appellate Court found that the plaintiff, a light fixture designer, did not plead sufficient facts to make it plausible that the light fixtures in question have either physically or conceptually separable elements that are entitled to copyright protection.
The Court is citing the definition of “Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” under Title 17.U.S.C. Sec. 101. That definition reads in part,
Such works shall include works of artistic craftsmanship insofar as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned; the design of a useful article, as defined in this section, shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.
The Court goes on to explain the difference between physical and conceptual separability. Here’s a link to the opinion.