Klauber Brothers Inc. v. Target Corporation et al
OPINION: The motion for summary judgment is denied. This resolves the motion listed as number 39 in this case. This opinion was filed under seal on June 2, 2015. The parties were afforded an opportunity to request redactions, and declined to do so. (As further set forth in this Order) (Signed by Judge Thomas P. Griesa on 7/16/2015) (kl)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
KLAUBER BROTHERS, INC.,
14 Civ. 2125
APPAREL INTERNATIONAL, INC. d/b/a
This is a copyright case concerning a design in lace.
Klauber Brothers, Inc. (“Klauber”), is a New York corporation that
specializes in the design and supply of lace products. Defendant Target
Corporation (“Target”) is a retailer incorporated in Minnesota. Defendant
AFR Apparel International, Inc. d/b/a Parisa USA (“Parisa”) is a lingerie
maker incorporated in California.
Defendants move for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s
claims. The motion is denied.
In 2004, plaintiff’s in-house lace designer designed the lace at issue
in this case, known as the 7725 Design. (SOF ¶ 7; Ex. 1.) She based the
7725 Design in part on earlier designs she had made for Klauber, known
as the 7719 Design and the 1065 Design. (SOF ¶ 10; Ex 2.) In the process
of making the 1065 Design, she studied a book of old public domain
designs, including a rose design dating from the year 1900 (the “1900
Design”). (SOF ¶ 10; Ex. 4.)
The 7725 Design incorporates elements including a flower, leaves,
frond-like “scroll” figures, and a scalloped edge. (Ex. 1.) The design was
intended to be made on a Raschel lace machine and used as a two and
three-eighths inch wide undergarment waistband. (Citrone Tr. at 41.)
On or about April 26, 2006, Klauber applied to register a copyright
in the 7725 Design. (SOF ¶ 1, 3.) The 7725 Design is a design for a twoand-three-inches-wide strip of lace. (SOF ¶ 3.) In the application, Klauber
stated that the 7725 Design had been created in 2005, and Klauber did
not list any prior works upon which the 7725 Design was based. (SOF ¶¶
7, 47.) The application was granted, resulting in the ’515 Registration. On
February 27, 2015, Klauber filed a supplement to the ’515 Registration
stating that the 7725 Design was “inspired” by two prior Klauber works:
the 1065 Design and the 7719 Design. (Klauber Decl. ¶ 12; Ex. 3.) The
supplement also corrected the date of creation of the 7725 Design to 2004.
In 2008, Target developed a program called the “panty bin” program.
(SOF ¶ 50.) Target’s designer in charge of the program chose the 7725
lace for waistbands of undergarments to be marketed through the
(SOF ¶ 50.)
Target chose two manufacturers to make the
undergarments using Klauber lace: defendant Parisa and Asia-based
manufacturer Thai Onono (SOF ¶ 53.) Initially, Parisa and Thai Onono
produced undergarments using Klauber’s 7725 lace, but subsequently a
Chinese lace company, Sei Hoi, “re-engineered” the 7725 lace. (SOF ¶ 55.)
manufactured by Parisa featuring the Sei Hoi lace. (SOF ¶¶ 56-62.)
A moving party is entitled to summary judgment when the record,
viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue
as to a material fact is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1987). In demonstrating the existence of
a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party may not rest upon
mere allegations or conclusory statements, but must go beyond the
pleadings with proper documentary evidence. See Davis v. New York, 326
F.3d 93, 100 (2d Cir. 2002).
In the complaint, plaintiff alleges copyright infringement. “Copyright
infringement is established when the owner of a valid copyright
demonstrates unauthorized copying.” Castle Rock Entm't, Inc. v. Carol
Publ'g Group, Inc., 150 F.3d 132, 137–38 (2d Cir.1998) (internal quotation
In their motion for summary judgment, defendants
mount challenges to both the validity of the copyright and the allegation
of copying, which the court will now address.
A. Whether the ’515 Copyright Registration is Enforceable
Defendants argue that plaintiff’s ’515 Registration for the 7725
Design is unenforceable because plaintiff failed to disclose to the Copyright
Office certain non-protectable elements of the 7725 Design. Specifically,
defendants contend that plaintiff failed to make four disclosures: (1) that
the 7725 Design was a derivative work based on earlier Klauber designs,
the 7719 and 1065 Designs, (2) that the main flower in the 7725 Design
incorporated public domain elements, namely a detail from a flower in the
1900 Design, (3) that the scalloped edges of the 7725 Design were a
functional technique in lace-making, not a proprietary design element, and
(4) that the scrolls in the 7725 Design differed from common floral lace
design elements in only non-consequential ways.
further that this information would have been relevant to the Copyright
Office in determining the originality and registrability of the 7725 Design,
and that plaintiff willfully concealed this information.
Registered copyrights are presumed valid pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §
410(c). Moreover, where a plaintiff fails to disclose facts to the Copyright
Office, a copyright may not be invalidated unless (1) the failure was
knowing and willful, and (2) the omitted information might have caused
the Copyright Office to reject the registration. Eckes v. Card Prices Update,
736 F.2d 859, 861-62 (2d Cir. 1984).
Defendants have not established that plaintiff willfully failed to
disclose any information.
Defendants point to a statement by Mark
Klauber, the signatory of the application for the ’515 Registration,
indicating that he knew at the time of application that the 7725 Design
referred to older designs. (Klauber Tr. at 30-31.) Defendants also point to
the testimony of the designer of the 7725 Design, wherein she states that
she “believes” that Mark Klauber knew that the 7725 Design referenced
prior Klauber designs. (Citrone Tr. at 82.) This merely establishes that
Mark Klauber was generally aware of the design’s roots in older designs at
the time of the copyright application. It does not show that he understood
or believed that these facts should have been disclosed to the Copyright
Office, and it cannot support a conclusion that plaintiff willfully failed to
Indeed, Mark Klauber has submitted a sworn
declaration attesting that he believes in good faith that he did not, and
does not, need to disclose any additional information to the Copyright
Office. (Klauber Decl. ¶¶ 4-8.)
In February, 2015, plaintiff provided corrections to the Copyright
Office, slightly changing the date of the completion of the 7725 Design and
indicating that the work was “inspired” by two previous Klauber designs.
This, too, tends to suggest that any omission was inadvertent. R.F.M.A.S.,
Inc. v. Mimi So, 619 F. Supp. 2d 39, 56 (“[T]he Copyright Office has a
procedure for correcting innocent and inadvertent misstatements, and . .
. courts generally refrain from invalidating certificates based on such
Further, had plaintiff submitted a flawless application in 2006, the
Copyright Office would have been very unlikely to reject it. Plaintiff likely
should have disclosed that the 7725 Design was based upon earlier
Klauber designs, as they ultimately did in the 2015 correction. But as
discussed infra in Section B, the other disclosures that defendants allege
plaintiff should have made (i.e., that the 7725 Design incorporates public
domain elements, that the scallop design is a “technique” rather than a
proprietary design, and that the scroll elements are unoriginal) are subject
to reasonable debate. And even if they are all true, they do not establish
that the 7725 Design is unprotectable in its entirety.
Under these circumstances, the court cannot hold as a matter of law
that the ’515 Copyright Registration is unenforceable due to plaintiff’s
failure to disclose unprotectable elements in the 7725 Design.
B. Whether the 7725 Design Lacks Sufficient Originality to be
Protectable Under the Copyright Act
Defendants argue that various elements of the 7725 Design are
unprotectable because they are either taken from public domain or
previous designs, or are dictated by functional requirements. Further,
defendants argue that any elements not falling into those categories, and
the arrangement of elements in the whole design, lack sufficient originality
to be protectable.
A design must be original to be protectable under the Copyright Act.
17 U.S.C. § 102. Elements of a design that are “slavishly or
mechanistically” copied from either the public domain or previous works
are not entitled to copyright protection. See L. Batlin & Son, Inc. v. Snyder,
536 F.2d 486, 490 (2d Cir. 1976); Folio Impressions, Inc. v. Byer
California, 937 F.2d 759, 763 (2d Cir. 1991). However, for the original
portions of a work to be copyrightable, “only an unmistakable dash of
originality need be demonstrated, [and] high standards of uniqueness in
creativity are dispensed with.” Id. at 764-65 (citing Weissman v. Freeman,
868 F.2d 1313, 1321 (2d Cir. 1989). The requisite “dash of originality”
may be present in arrangements of unprotectable elements.
Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996, 1003-04 (2d Cir. 1995)
(citing Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)).
Defendants propose that the 7725 Design consists of five repeating
elements: (1) two scrolls, (2) a main flower, (3) two leaves extending from
the main flower, and a scalloped edge comprised of (4) a white scalloped
pattern, and (5) a dark scalloped pattern. (Def. R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 15.)
oversimplification. However, it is a reasonable framework for an analysis
of the 7725 Design.
1. The Scrolls
Defendants contend that the curly frond-like figures called “scrolls”
in the 7725 Design are not original. Indeed, it is undisputed that countless
floral lace designs predating the 7725 Design have scrolls. Defendants
also observe that the two-scroll configuration in the 7725 Design bears
resemblance to a two-scroll configuration in plaintiff’s older 7719 Design.
Plaintiff counters that the scrolls in the 7725 Design are not rote
copies of the scrolls in the 7719 Design, because plaintiff’s designer added
unique shading to the tips of the scrolls.
This shading enhances the
impression that the scrolls are curling over upon themselves. Further,
plaintiff contends that the two-scroll configuration in the 7725 Design
(which is not found in any third party designs) differs significantly from a
similar configuration in the 7719 Design because in the former, one of the
two scrolls is depicted only in part.
Mindful that only a “dash” of originality is required, the court finds
that there is a fact issue as to whether the shaded scroll tips and the
arrangement of the scrolls merit copyright protection.
2. The Flower
Defendants contend that the flower in the 7725 Design is a derivative
work based on an earlier Klauber lace design, the 1065 Design. Plaintiff’s
designer testified that the flower in the 7725 Design is a “simplified
version” of the flower in the 1065 Design. (Citrone Tr. at 49.) The flower,
furthermore, incorporates a graphical depiction of petals “folding over”
upon themselves. Plaintiff’s designer testified that, in order to draw the
petals folding over upon themselves in the 1065 Design, she studied the
1900 Design from a picture in a book. (Id. at 64-67.)
However, defendants have not established that the flower in the
7725 Design is unprotectable in its entirety.
The flower in the 7725
Design, while admittedly inspired by the flower in the 1065 Design, is less
detailed. The petals are positioned differently. Furthermore, the “foldover” petal element does not appear on side-by-side examination to have
been mechanistically copied from the 1900 Design.
designer did not admit to copying it. Instead, she testified as follows: “I
don’t know what each flower looks like until I study it. So there’s a number
of roses on this page. And once I studied it, I was able to draw my roses
for 1065.” (Id. at 67.) This suggests that the “fold over” element was not
a copied element.
Defendants have not shown as a matter of law that the flower in the
7725 Design is so devoid of originality that it is not protectable against
3. The Leaves
Defendants assert, with surprising brevity, that the leaf elements of
the 7725 Design are not original. However, the particular orientation of
the leaves relative to the flowers appears only in the 7725 Design, not in
the previous Klauber designs or in any public domain designs.
defendants have not shown that the leaves are unprotectable.
4. The White and Black Scallop Patterns
Defendants contend that the scalloped edge in the 7725 Design is
not copyrightable because it is in part dictated by functional requirements
of lace, and is otherwise unoriginal. The design contains a light-shaded
“false” scallop portion which veers back and forth from the edge of the lace,
as well as dark shaded scallops at the portions of the edge of the lace where
the light-shaded “false” scallop has veered away from the edge of the lace.
(Citrone Tr. at 53-56; see also Ex. 1.) Plaintiff’s designer testified that the
dark-shaded scallops were necessitated by functional requirements of
lacemaking, and that the light-shaded scallops, which made the design
more visually interesting, were a motif she “would have to think . . . you
would use” if you designed scallops for a long time. (Id. at 55-56.)
Defendants construe plaintiff’s designer’s testimony as an admission
that the 7725 Design was either unoriginal or was dictated by functional
However, the statement is of little legal significance.
Defendants have not produced any other lace with a similar scallop design.
(See Susman Decl. Exs. M-P, T.) Furthermore, while the scallops hewing
to the outer edge of lace are present for functional reasons, the lightshaded “false” scallops are admittedly not. They appear to veer back and
forth from the edge of the lace, framing the flowers in an aesthetic way.
Defendants have not shown that the scallop patterns are wholly
unprotectable as a matter of law.
5. Arrangement as a Whole and Other Aspects of Design
Defendants rightly argue that the 7725 Design’s pattern of repeating
its design elements with alternating orientations is an unoriginal feature
of many designs. However, an issue of fact remains as to whether there is
protectable original content in the precise configuration and relative
spacing of the various elements including the flower, leaves, and scrolls.
C. Whether the 7725 Design is an Unprotectable Design for a
In this Circuit, graphical textile designs are protectable because they
are considered “writings.” See, e.g., Folio Impressions, 937 F.2d at 763;
see also Eve of Milady v. Impression Bridal, Inc., 957 F. Supp. 484, 488
(S.D.N.Y. 1997) (lace design protectable).
However, under the copyright statute, designs for “useful articles”
are not protectable. 17 U.S.C. § 101. A useful article is one with “an
intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance
of the article or to convey information.” Id. Articles of clothing are useful
articles, and clothing designs are therefore not generally protectable. See,
e.g., Jovani Fashion, Ltd. v. Fiesta Fashions, 500 F. App’x 42, 44-45 (2d
There is an exception to this rule. Designs for useful articles may be
protectable “if, and only to the extent that, [the] 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.”
17 U.S.C. § 101.
Such separability may be physical,
meaning that the design can be actually detached from the useful article
and sold separately. See Carol Barnhart Inc. v. Economy Clover Corp.,
773 F.2d 411, 421 (2d Cir. 1985) (Newman, J., dissenting) (discussing the
example of a hood ornament on a car, which can be removed without
harming the utility of the car).
Alternatively, a design may evince
“conceptual” separability, meaning that it has identifiable features that
were designed independent of functional considerations and which are
capable of existing apart from the useful article. See Chosun Int'l, Inc. v.
Chrisha Creations, Ltd., 413 F.3d 324, 329 (2d Cir. 2005) (“[D]esign
elements that can be conceptualized as existing independently of their
utilitarian function are eligible for copyright protection.”) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
The Second Circuit explains
“[I]f design elements reflect a merger of aesthetic and functional
considerations, the artistic aspects of a work cannot be said to
be conceptually separable from the utilitarian elements.
Conversely, where design elements can be identified as
reflecting the designer's artistic judgment exercised
independently of functional influences, conceptual separability
Brandir Int’l, Inc. v. Cascade Pacific Lumber Co., 834 F.2d 1142, 1145 (2d
Designs falling within the conceptual separability exception include
sculptural belt buckles, Kieselstein-Cord v. Accessories by Pearl, Inc., 632
F.2d 989, 991 (2d Cir. 1980). On the other hand, designs not falling within
the conceptual separability exception include designs for prom dresses
and distinctively-shaped bicycle racks. See Whimsicality, Inc. v. Rubie’s
Costume Co., Inc., 891 F.2d 452, 455-56 (2d Cir. 1989); Brandir, 834 F.2d
Here, defendants argue that the 7725 Design is not conceptually
separable from the useful article of a waistband, and is therefore
unprotectable. Defendants point to the testimony of textile expert Robert
Beaulieu, who stated that the 7725 Design is a functional part of a
garment. (Beaulieu Tr. at 127-138.) Beaulieu also noted that the lace
design is not separable from the physical structure of the lace.
Defendants point additionally to the testimony of plaintiff’s designer, who
stated that certain aspects of the design were influenced by functional
limitations relating to the inherent structure of lace. (Citrone Tr. at 5254.) Plaintiff’s designer stated further that the 7725 Design was created
with the intention that it would serve as a waistband. (Id. at 41.)
Plaintiff counters that the 7725 Design is conceptually separable.
The 7725 Design could serve as something other than a waistband, such
as decorative trim, or an ornamental object. Further, plaintiff observes
that the lace in the 7725 Design could conceivably be produced without
elastic components—meaning that it would not function as a waistband—
without altering the graphical patterns in the lace. Plaintiff admits that
functional considerations informed parts of the 7725 Design, but contends
that these functional considerations neither dictated the design nor limited
the scope of the designer’s creativity. (Opp. Br. at 16.)
Plaintiff has the better of the argument. The court finds that the
7725 Design is, at least in part, conceptually separable from the functional
article of the waistband, because it is essentially a writing in the form of
To be sure, the 7725 Design reflects certain functional
considerations because it was intended for a waistband. The elements of
the design that reflect these considerations, such as the portions of the
scalloped edge design which serve structural purposes, are therefore not
protectable in themselves. But the design also incorporates pictorial and
graphical elements eminently capable of standing alone and apart from an
These elements—the details in the flowers,
leaves, stems, the light-shaded “false” scallops which do not serve a
structural purpose, and the arrangement of these elements relative to one
another—are closely similar to textile designs. See Folio Impressions, 937
F.2d at 763. It is these elements that are protectable. Like graphical
designs in fabric or other media, these elements of the 7725 Design
naturally reflect certain constraints of their medium, but they nonetheless
embody the exercise of a designer’s aesthetic judgment independent of
Further, the 7725 Design is distinguishable from clothing designs
such as dress designs.
First, as discussed, it possesses a creative
graphical and pictorial character which stands alone and apart from its
application as a useful article, making akin to a textile design and
distinguishing it from clothing designs and industrial designs. Second, if
the 7725 Design were used as something other than a waistband, like a
decorative trim, it would not remain obviously recognizable as an
undergarment waistband. This is important because the Second Circuit
has rejected attempts to copyright clothing designs by implausibly recharacterizing them as things they are not. See, e.g., Whimsicality, 891
F.2d at 455-56 (rejecting an attempt to characterize costumes as “soft
sculptures”); see also Carol Barnhart, 773 F.2d at 419 (rejecting attempt
to characterize human torso-shaped mannequins as sculptures).
while imagining a costume design to be a soft sculpture requires an
artificial suspension of disbelief, imagining the 7725 Design as a
decorative trim does not. The design is therefore conceptually separable,
in part, from the useful article of a waistband. It “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.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.
Moreover, it is not dispositive that plaintiff’s designer admittedly
intended the 7725 Design to be a waistband.
That fact does not
distinguish the 7725 Design from the protectable designs for sculptural
belt buckles in Kieselstein-Cord, 632 F.2d 989, which were also clearly
designed with the intent of serving as useful articles.
analysis looks at the characteristics of the design itself and does not focus
exclusively on the mind of the designer.
In light of the above, the court rejects defendants’ argument that the
entire 7725 Design is an unprotectable design for a useful article.
D. Whether Defendants’ Designs are Substantially Similar to the
Defendants argue that the accused designs cannot infringe because
they are not substantially similar to the 7725 Design after the latter is
stripped of public domain and functional elements.
In order to demonstrate unauthorized copying, a plaintiff must
establish “substantial similarity” between the copyrighted work and the
work accused of infringing.
Castle Rock, 150 F.3d at 137-38.
Second Circuit, the “test for substantial similarity between two items is
whether an ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities,
would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the] aesthetic appeal as
the same.” Peter F. Gaito Architecture, LLC v. Simone Dev. Corp., 602
F.3d 57, 66 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation omitted). This “ordinary
observer” test asks whether “an average lay observer would recognize the
alleged copy as having been appropriated from the copyrighted work.”
Knitwaves, Inc., 71 F.3d at 1002 (internal quotation omitted). However,
where a work incorporates both protectable and unprotectable elements,
the analysis must be “more discerning.” Fisher–Price, Inc. v. Well–Made
Toy Mfg. Corp., 25 F.3d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1994).
Under the “more
discerning” test, the court must “extract the unprotectable elements from
[its] consideration and ask whether the protectable elements, standing
alone, are substantially similar.”
Knitwaves, Inc., 71 F.3d at 1002
Here, the 7725 Design incorporates unprotectable elements, so the
“more discerning” test must be applied. However, as discussed in the
originality analysis, defendants have failed to show that the 7725 Design
is devoid of protectable elements. And a side-by-side comparison plainly
reveals that the accused designs copied the 7725 Design completely and
exactly. (See supra, Plaintiff’s Depo. Exs. 2, 3, 24.)
If the accused designs had departed even slightly from the 7725
Design, the court might be faced with a more difficult question about
whether they infringed the protectable elements of plaintiff’s design. But
where, as here, the copying is nearly exact, any reasonable jury would find
The motion for summary judgment is denied.
This resolves the
motion listed as number 39 in this case.
This opinion was filed under seal on June 2, 2015. The parties were
afforded an opportunity to request redactions, and declined to do so.
Dated: New Yo k, New York
July 16 2015
Thomas P. Griesa
United States District Judge
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Exhibit 1: The 7725 Design
Exhibit 2: The 1065 Design
Exhibit 3: The 7719 Design
Exhibit 4: The 1900 Design
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