Target, Walmart Win Copyright Litigation Over Zebra Pattern
|Written by Corinne Kerston
Posted: Jan 25, 2013 @ 8:30 am
In the fight over artistically designed fabric, Topson Downs of California, Inc., Target Corporation and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has prevailed against Meridian Textiles Inc.
On October 7, 2011, Meridian Textiles filed a copyright claim against Topson Downs, Target and Wal-Mart (collectively called Defendant in court documents), claimed the used fabric designs that are solely theirs. The claim was related to 4 separate fabric designs: a zebra stripe pattern, a burnout pattern, an animal print pattern and a lace design.
Meridian Textiles is a L.A. based company which works directly with garment manufactures who are in need of printed fabric. To obtain the artwork for the fabric, Meridian creates original graphic designs or buys the exclusive rights to original artwork from art studios and artists.
In their claim against the retail stores, Meridian stated that between the years of 2008 and 2009, their in-house designer Myoung Chung had created originals of the designs in question, named Subject Designs in the claim. They stated that they “owned all the rights in the Subject Designs, and applied for, and received, copyright registrations for each of the Subject Designs. After creation of the Subject Designs, Plaintiff offered samples of the designs to numerous customers in the apparel industry, including Defendant.”
The impetus for the lawsuit started when Meridian purchased garments from Target and again from Wal-Mart; garments that Meridian claims infringes of the Subject Designs. Further investigation into the garments in question revealed that Topson was the manufacturer that sold the garments to the retail giants.
Meridian had requested that the court reach a decision in their favor without a full trial. Procedurally this is a request for a summary judgment, however that request was denied. See Court Order on Summary Judgment (August 24, 2012). Also denied was Meridian’s requested reconsideration of the District Court’s ruling. See Court Order on Reconsideration (November 15, 2012). Court documents dated November 15, 2012 states:
Plaintiff argues that the Court erred and seeks reconsideration on the following grounds: (1) the Court failed to provide Plaintiff a full and fair opportunity to address the issues on which the Court granted summary judgment sua sponte; (2) the Court violated the primary jurisdiction doctrine and misapplied the law when if found Plaintiff’s copyright of the Zebra Design invalid; (3) the Court improperly considered only samples from the exhibits of the Deutchman Declaration; (4) the Court applied a “dissimilarly analysis” when considering substantial similarity; and (5) the Court ignored the inverse ratio rule, which would have reduced Plaintiff’s burden of showing substantial similarity. The Court disagrees and addresses each argument in turn.”
United States District Court of the Central District of California Judge Gary Klausner said that the zebra print pattern in question is not entitled to protection under copyright because the pattern reflects animal stripes that are found in nature and not a man-made pattern, and therefore ordered the U.S. Copyright Office to invalidate Meridian’s registration on the pattern.
The court also ruled that there is no copyright infringement when it comes to the other three fabric designs due largely in part to the evidence that was given by Ezra Brutzkus Gubner LLP (“EBG”), a law firm that is well known in the Apparel & Fashion Industry, and has a strong background in defending against copyright claims regarding fabric designs.
EBG and its partners Jeffrey Kobulnick and Mark Brutzkus provided the court with enough substantial evidence for the judge to side with the Defendant. Brutzkus said of the ruling, “We are extremely happy with Judge Klausner’s ruling as this is a tremendous win not only for Topson and Target, but for many other manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the apparel industry.”
However, the Defendants were not without their own requests. They requested attorneys’ fees, which is authorized pursuant to the Copyright Act. They stated in an official document that “pursuant to the Copyright Act, a district court has discretion to award the recovery of full costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.”
The Court disagreed with their justification for the request citing that there was no evidence that the plaintiff engaged in bad behavior or otherwise abused the litigation process. See Order on Defendant’s Motion for Attorneys Fees. The Court explained that, “Defendants argue that they are entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees under Section 505 of the Copyright Act because their defense furthered the purposes of the Act. The Court disagrees. The Court analyzes each of the relevant Fogerty and Ninth Circuit factors and finds, in its discretion, that an award of attorneys’ fees to Defendants is not appropriate.”
Although Judge Gary Klausner came to a decision in this case, it is not yet over. A notice of appeal has been filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by Meridian Textiles. They are requesting a reconsideration of the case. Stay tuned.