Friday, August 13, 2010
Eleventh Circuit Refuses to Pacify Baby Buddies in Copyright Claims Against Babies "R" Us
In this case, the facts revealed that Baby Buddies started business in 1987 after a woman designed her own pacifier holder because she could not find a good one on the market. Her design was registered in 1987. A design firm was hired to make a new design and that was registered in 1991. In 1997, Toys R Us, aka Babies R Us, began selling the Baby Buddies pacifier holder. Sales were excellent. In 1999, Toys R Us decided to produce and maket its own pacifier holder. Initially, Toys R Us attempted to buy the Baby Buddies pacifier holder design on the open market. That effort failed, after which Toys R Us hired a consultant to design several holders including a teddy bear holder. The consultant hired a subcontractor. At some point, the consultant sent the subcontractor a copy of the Baby Buddies pacifier holder and a note saying in part, "I need a new animal design. The buyer likes this bear but I do not want to produce the same exact thing. Can you work on a similar design?" The subcontractor designed pacifier holders of many kinds, including an angel, a duck, a rabbit, and a teddy bear. Toys R Us sold both pacifiers for a while but discontinued selling the Baby Buddies holder in 2003. Baby Buddies sued shortly after that.
Baby Buddies argued that summary judgment is usually inappropriate in copyright cases because the ultimate issue of infringement turns on a jury's comparison of the works in question. However, the court noted that Eleventh Circuit law holds that summary judgment in a copyright case is appropriate in two instances, (1) where the similarity between the two works concerns only non-copyrightable elements of the work, or (2) because no reasonable jury could find the two works to be substantially similar. In making its determination the court focused on a comparison of the two plastic teddy bears. In doing so it held that the copyright protection only would apply to the particularized expression of the bear, not the the general idea of including certain features on a bear, such as a head, paws, torso and the like. In its opinion, the expressive elements of the two bears were not substantially similar as a matter of law. It held that "Baby Buddies is trying to invoke the protection of the copyright laws to prevent a competitor from using the idea of putting a sculpted teddy bear and a color-coordinated bow on a ribbon tether to create an aesthetically pleasing pacifier holder." The court stated that this type of creative competition does not violate copyright law. "Baby Buddies has the right to prevent others from copying its creative expression, but not from expressing similar ideas differently." Thus, the summary judgment against Baby Buddies was affirmed.