DURHAM INDUSTRIES, INC. v. TOMY CORP. No. 639, Docket 79-7752.
630 F.2d 905 (1980)
DURHAM INDUSTRIES, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. TOMY CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Decided September 2, 1980.
Lewis H. Eslinger, New York City (Stuart A. White, James D. Fornari, Curtis, Morris & Safford, P. C., New York City, F. David LaRiviere, Carson, California, Mori & Ota, Los Angeles, Cal., of counsel), for defendant-appellant.
James M. Rhodes, Jr., New York City (John M. Calimafde, Michael Ebert, Hopgood, Calimafde, Kalil, Blaustein & Lieberman, New York City, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellee.
Before FRIENDLY and MESKILL, Circuit Judges, and THOMSEN, District Judge.
MESKILL, Circuit Judge:
Appellant Tomy Corporation and appellee Durham Industries, Inc. are American companies engaged in the manufacture and sale of toys. In January of 1979, counsel for Tomy accused Durham of systematically copying certain Tomy toys and threatened to take legal action if the matter was not immediately resolved by other means. Evidently believing that the best defense is a good offense, in February of 1979 Durham filed an action against Tomy in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking a declaratory judgment to the effect that in marketing its line of toys Durham had violated no legal rights of Tomy. In response, Tomy asserted nine counterclaims against Durham: eight counterclaims alleging copyright infringement in regard to eight specified toys
After some preliminary skirmishing between the parties,
For purposes of discussion the eight pairs of toys involved in this case may be grouped into two categories: the Disney figures, of which there are three pairs, and the miscellaneous toys, of which there are five pairs. In analyzing the Disney figure counterclaims we have focused on the threshold issue of copyright validity; our analysis of the counterclaims involving the miscellaneous toys centers on the very different issue of copyright infringement.
THE DISNEY FIGURES
Tomy claims to hold copyrights on three wind-up plastic figures, each about three inches in height and each capable of locomotion, which are instantly recognizable as the Disney characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto Dog. Durham has manufactured and distributed virtually indistinguishable versions of these three Disney figures, and Durham concedes that in making these toys it used Tomy's Disney figures as models. Tomy asserts that Durham has thereby infringed upon Tomy's exclusive right to copy its own creations.
Before asking a court to consider the question of infringement, a party must demonstrate the existence and the validity of its copyright, for in the absence of copyright (or patent, trademark, or state law) protection, even original creations are in the public domain and may be freely copied. Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Stiffel Co.,
In the instant case, the evidence that raises — and we think necessitates an adverse determination of — the issue of the validity of Tomy's copyrights on its three Disney figures is the mute testimony of Mickey, Donald and Pluto themselves. One look at Tomy's figures reveals that, in each, the element of originality that is necessary to
Neither party contests the fact that Walt Disney created the three characters at issue. Tomy acknowledges Disney's ownership of copyrights on these characters
In L. Batlin & Son, Inc. v. Snyder,
Although novelty, uniqueness and ingenuity are not required, independent creation is. Batlin, 536 F.2d at 490. Accord, Donald v. Zack Meyer's T.V. Sales and Service,
Particularly important for decision of the case before us is the explicit rejection in Batlin of the contention that the originality requirement of copyrightability can be satisfied by the mere reproduction of a work of art in a different medium, or by the demonstration of some "physical" as opposed to "artistic" skill. Batlin, 536 F.2d at 491, declining to follow contrary holding in Doran v. Sunset House Distributing Corp.,
As we noted in Batlin, "[t]o extend copyrightability to minuscle variations would simply put a weapon for harassment in the hands of mischievous copiers ...." 536 F.2d at 492. In that case, our concern was with the appropriation and monopolization of work in the public domain. In the instant case, our concern is with carrying out the statutory command that protection of a derivative work not affect the scope of
Lacking even a modest degree of originality, Tomy's Disney figures are not copyrightable. As to these toys we therefore need not consider the question of infringement by Durham.
In connection with the five remaining copyright counterclaims, Durham does not challenge — and we can find nothing in the record that tends to cast doubt on — the validity of the copyrights asserted by Tomy. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the certificates of registration may properly be viewed as establishing Tomy's right to sue for infringement. Our study of both the toys and the law, however, convinces us that Tomy has failed to prove that its copyrights were in fact infringed.
Although the legal principles governing the infringement actions are easily stated, they are of limited utility in the decision of particular cases. As explained in Novelty Textile Mills, Inc. v. Joan Fabrics Corp., supra,
Id. at 1092-93 (footnote omitted).
Durham does not deny access to Tomy's toys and for purposes of this appeal we will assume that Tomy could, if given the opportunity, carry its burden on this element of its counterclaims. A comparison of the toys, however, indicates that Durham did not use this access to create toys substantially similar to those protected by Tomy's copyrights.
This is not to deny that there is a certain amount of similarity apparent in each pair of toys, as will be seen below. But a general impression of similarity is not sufficient to make out a case of infringement. The only similarity of significance in assessing claims of infringement is similarity of expression. Hoehling v. Universal City Studios, Inc.,
The idea/expression distinction, although an imprecise tool, has not been abandoned because we have as yet discovered no better way to reconcile the two competing societal interests that provide the rationale for the granting of and the restrictions on copyright protection: "rewarding an individual's ingenuity and effort while at the same time permitting the nation to benefit from further improvements or progress resulting from others' use of the same subject matter." Reyher v. Children's Television Workshop, supra, 533 F.2d at 90. Thus, for example, in Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Honora Jewelry Co.,
There is another, equally important limitation on the scope of copyright protection that must be kept in mind in assessing substantial similarity. Just as copyright protection extends to expression but not ideas, copyright protection extends only to the artistic aspects, but not the mechanical or utilitarian features, of a protected work. Mazer v. Stein, supra, 347 U.S. at 218, 74 S.Ct. at 471. This distinction is embodied in the very definition of pictorial, graphic and sculptural works in the Copyright Act:
17 U.S.C. § 101. Thus, in copyright actions, similarity of idea or function must be distinguished from similarity of artistic expression.
Even as to protected aspects of a work, it should be emphasized that under the law only substantial similarity will support a determination of infringement. We have frequently held that where such substantial similarity is found, slight differences between a protected work and an accused work will not preclude a finding of infringement. Soptra Fabrics Corp. v. Stafford Knitting Mills, Inc.,
With these legal principles in mind, we turn to the five pairs of toys at issue. The district court's dismissal of the five "miscellaneous
Two of Tomy's counterclaims involve simple games. The first, sold by Tomy under the name "Pass the Nuts," is a stand-up, box-shaped toy about twelve inches in height. Four buttons located at the bottom of the box control four levers located behind the transparent plastic front of the toy. By pushing these buttons in the correct sequence, the player can move a plastic disc from the starting point to the goal. Tomy claims that Durham has infringed its Pass the Nuts copyright by manufacturing and distributing a similar game under the name "Mickey Mouse Peanut Putter."
Although the games are mechanically identical and structurally similar, they are distinguishable in many respects. Tomy's Pass the Nuts game is housed in a yellow box and operated by red buttons. The levers that push the disc and the backdrop against which these levers are placed are designed to make it appear as if a bear, a rabbit, a monkey and a squirrel are attempting to throw an acorn from the ground up to the top of a tree. Durham's Peanut Putter, housed in a green box and operated by yellow buttons, features Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto engaged in a game of golf, using a peanut rather than the more traditional golf ball, while the gallery (Huey, Dewey and Louie) cheers them on and Goofy officiates or possibly caddies.
The second game at issue is Tomy's battery-operated "Drive Yourself Crazy." This game is housed in a red plastic box about eight inches long. A yellow steering wheel at the bottom controls a car which rests on a moving highway. As in life, the object of this game is to steer the car so as to keep it on the road, without hitting any obstructions, for as long as possible. With skillful steering the player can compile 100 points by avoiding a construction site, a mailbox and various other roadside hazards. The corresponding Durham game, which Tomy claims constitutes an infringement of its rights to Drive Yourself Crazy, is the "Mickey Mouse Star Ship." Durham's version is mechanically identical and structurally very similar to the Tomy game, but as with the disc games described above, the Durham artwork, based on Disney characters, is totally different. Rather than steer an automobile through a race, the player in Durham's game is invited to help Mickey Mouse pilot his space ship from blast-off, through outer space, and to a safe landing. The player here must navigate his craft through such dangers as a meteor shower and an enemy attack and, presumably because of the difficulty of his mission, is given an opportunity, in mid-flight, to "make a wish upon a star." Unlike the Tomy game, Durham's game does not utilize a numerical scoring system.
While conceding that the "decoration" of Durham's games is entirely different from that of the respective Tomy games, Tomy maintains that the "sculpture" of each Tomy game is in itself an artistic creation protected by copyright,
Tomy has simply failed to specify any "sculptural features" or aesthetic elements of either game which could be identified separately from and exist independently of the utilitarian aspects of the article. See 2 Nimmer § 8.01[D]. In fact, Tomy's games are "sculptures" only in the sense that every three-dimensional object has a shape. Neither game is a sculptural work as defined by the Copyright Act. Cf. Esquire, Inc. v. Ringer,
Tomy also asserts by way of counterclaim that three Durham wind-up dolls, known collectively as "Mini-Winders," infringe certain copyrights held by Tomy.
Tomy's "Kid-A-Longs" is a plastic doll, about three inches long, apparently intended to represent a baby girl on her hands and knees. When wound, the doll crawls. Tomy claims that Durham's "Baby Mini-Winder" infringes upon the Kid-A-Longs copyright. That the idea behind each toy is the same is evident from a viewing of the toys, and the inference that Durham conceived of the idea for its doll only after viewing Tomy's toy is not an unreasonable one. Each toy represents a small, plastic, crawling baby dressed only in a diaper. Each has a head quite large in proportion to its body, and each has a rather broad face, with a wide-eyed "kewpie doll" appearance. But Durham's expression of this possibly copied idea differs in every articulable respect from that of Tomy. Tomy's female doll has a blue diaper, brown hair and a
Tomy manufactures another type of "Kid-A-Longs," representing a baby, dressed only in a diaper, walking in a stroller rather than crawling. Durham has adopted this idea as well for its Mini-Winders series. As with the crawling dolls, both strolling dolls are mechanically identical and structurally similar. Both are made of plastic and stand between three and four inches tall. Yet in no articulable manner is Durham's expression of this idea the same as that of Tomy. Tomy's brown-eyed girl walks in a round stroller with a blue shelf attached to pink supports and wheels. Her pink diaper matches a pink bow in her hair. Her hair is light brown and is arranged in curls. Her arms are stretched out to her sides. Durham's blue-eyed boy, dressed in a classic white diaper, walks in a yellow stroller whose shape and structure is totally different from that created by Tomy: it is yellow, with blue wheels, and the shelf and supporting legs are all of a piece. The boy's dark brown hair is arranged in bangs rather than curls. His arms reach forward rather than to the sides. Unlike the Tomy girl, he lacks a navel. His eyes are smaller, his nose is sharper, his mouth is pinker, his eyelashes are fewer, and his head is bigger.
Tomy's final copyright counterclaim involves its "Rascal Robots" toy. This windup automaton has a silver-toned trunk, topped by a transparent blue dome and supported by orange feet. Its stationary orange arms jut straight out in front. The concept of legs has been entirely discarded. Durham's accused "Star Mission Mini-Winder Robot" is significantly taller and thinner. His head is a clear plastic dome and his arms and legs are green. In comparison to the Tomy robot Durham's robot has a more elongated head; a more elongated body; thinner, longer and straighter arms (which are moveable rather than stationary); and feet that are flatter and are attached to a pair of legs rather than directly to the trunk.
The most distinctive feature of the three Tomy dolls is their ability to walk or crawl, but it is clear from our discussion of the art/utility distinction that Durham is free to copy not only the idea of walking or crawling dolls but the mechanism that makes such locomotion possible as well. One would probably notice next the small size of the Tomy dolls and the fact that they are made of plastic, but, of course, Tomy's copyrights do not preclude others from making small, plastic wind-up dolls. In regard to the baby dolls, a certain degree of similarity is attributable to the "kewpie doll" appearance of both the Tomy and the Durham toys, but as stated in Ideal Toy Corp. v. Fab-Lu Ltd.,
Keeping in mind that only the artistic rather than the mechanical aspects of Tomy's dolls are copyrightable, that only Tomy's expression of its ideas is protected, and that all dolls attempting to express the same idea will of necessity display at least some similarity, we must agree with the district court that as a matter of law, Durham's accused dolls are not substantially similar to Tomy's copyrighted dolls. In our view, "`the total effect of the image conveyed to an ordinary observer by the accused dolls is quite distinct.'" Ideal Toy Corp. v. Fab-Lu Ltd., supra, 360 F.2d at 1022 (quoting the district court's opinion).
While it has been said that "[g]ood eyes and common sense may be as useful as deep study of ... cases, which themselves are tied to highly particularized facts," Couleur International Ltd. v. Opulent Fabrics Inc.,
In other toy cases claims of infringement have been rejected where only the idea but not the expression has been appropriated, Uneeda Doll Co. v. P & M Doll Co.,
Although the issue of substantial similarity is clearly a factual one, it was entirely proper for Judge Motley to hold that Tomy is not entitled to go to trial on the issue of infringement. For where both the plaintiff's and defendant's works are before the court, "the court may compare the two works and render a judgment for the defendant on the ground that as a matter of law a trier of fact would not be permitted to find substantial similarity." 3 Nimmer § 12.10 at 12-69. On appeal "where as here, the determination of similarity rests solely on a comparison of the works in issue rather than on the credibility of witnesses or other evidence only for the factfinder, `we are in as good a position as the trial judge' to determine the issue." Reyher v. Children's Television Workshop, supra, 533 F.2d at 90, quoting Soptra Fabrics Corp. v. Stafford Knitting Mills, Inc., supra, 490 F.2d at 1093. Since we have determined, as a matter of law, that there is no substantial similarity as to any of the three pairs of dolls, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the doll counterclaims.
Tomy's ninth and final counterclaim alleges that Durham has engaged in unfair competition under the Lanham Act and the common law. Our study of the toys and their packaging compels the conclusion that this counterclaim was properly dismissed by the district court. In regard to the five pairs of miscellaneous toys (the two pairs of games and the three pairs of dolls), the absence of substantial similarity leaves little basis for asserting a likelihood of consumer confusion or palming off — the dangers of which Tomy complains — and the manner in which the toys are displayed for retail sale eliminates such a possibility entirely. Pass the Nuts, is packaged in a black, tan and white display box; the word "Tomy" and the phrase "Pass-the-Nuts" appear on all six sides. Durham's accused game is housed in an all black box on which various Disney characters, as well as the names "Walt Disney," "Mickey Mouse," "Durham" and "Peanut Putter" are prominently featured on all six sides. Similarly, the coloring and the artwork of the respective Drive Yourself Crazy and Star Ship packages make them easily distinguishable at a glance. Tomy's two infant dolls are packaged in brown boxes featuring the trademark "Kid-A-Longs;" Durham's infant dolls are sold in red bubble packages on which the "Mini-Winders" trademark and the Durham name are clearly marked. Both robots are displayed in bubble packages but on each the artwork and coloring are distinctive and the name of the toy ("Rascal Robots" or "Star Mission Mini-Winder") is written in letters almost as large as the toy itself.
The miscellaneous toys themselves, as packaged, will not support a determination of unfair competition. Thus even if we assume for purposes of this appeal that Tomy could demonstrate secondary meaning at trial, since likelihood of consumer confusion could not be established Durham was entitled to summary judgment. See Vitarroz Corp. v. River Brand Rice Mills, Inc.,
In regard to the three Disney characters, Tomy cannot achieve by an unfair competition claim what it failed to achieve under its copyright claim and therefore the copying of its Disney figures is legally irrelevant. Section 301(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976 provides:
17 U.S.C. § 301(a). To the extent that Tomy's unfair competition claim seeks protection against Durham's copying, it is a claim based on a right equivalent to "exclusive rights within the ... scope of copyright." As such, it is defeated by Section 301(a).
The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
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