Re: Can an art STYLE be copyrighted?
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Posted by M. Arthur Auslander on December 28, 2000 at 04:32:58:
In Reply to: Can an art STYLE be copyrighted? posted by John Mayer on December 27, 2000 at 15:57:15:
: Yesterday this would have seemed a silly question, but today I must challenge the position of an actual copyright attorney:
: I am an artist working for a small firm which makes educational software. Recently this small firm has acquired some substantial investors. One of these has raised concerns about a character we use which is deemed to be too much in the style of Dr. Seuss. Mind you, the character does not look like any particular Seuss character and even stylistically it is dissimilar in many respects: it is drawn in solid line and broad areas of color instead of the pencil cross-hatching Mr. Geisel used, the hands are the familiar three-fingered gloved hands of Disney and others, etc. However, it is true that in general shape and expression it resembles the sort of character that Dr. Seuss, among others, might have drawn.
: The lawyer of one of our investors (and the only copyright attorney associated with our company in any way) says we should scrap any work we've done using this character (which is a considerable amount), just to be on the safe side. He says the criterion should be whether an average member of the public would look at the character and imagine it to be the creation of Dr. Seuss. I asked him whether an average person might not mistake a Don Bluth character for a Disney character, but he said that was different.
: I have always thought that only a particular piece of art could be copyrighted, rather than the style in which it is executed; Lord knows styles are copied all the time as they become trendy.
: I have been unable to find anything online that specifically addresses style, though I did find the U.S.Copyright site where I read that "In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery." [Section 106 of, presumably, the current Copyright act] This would seem to cover art style, but I need to be dead certain lest I misleed my boss, a sweet older lady, a former teacher, who is quite intimidated at this point. I would be grateful for any guidelines and any resources I can refer her to.
: Also, it is quite possible she needs a copyright attorney of her own; though I am not in a position to take any action on that myself I will pass along recommendations.
: John Mayer
Dear Mr. Mayer,
The ugly reality is that if there is a doubt, you may have the heavy expense of having to pay legal heavy fees even if you are right.
You can copyright an infringing work and protect it but that doesn't save you from legal challenge for your infringement.
There is copyright law to consider, unfair competition, and trademark antidilution.
If you are rich and want to make lawyers rich keep doing what you are doing.
M. Arthur Auslander
The Intellectual Property Law Server
Old Copyright Forum