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Jan/09

Copyright Law Does Not Concern Itself With Trifles


Yeah, right, any way, the movie ‘What Women Want’ depicted a pinball machine in the background of a scene. The owner of rights in the pinball machine sued the producer, Paramount, for copyright and trademark. The court said “de minimus non curat lex.” Coverage here, decision here.
From the decision:

The scene in question lasts only three-and-a-half minutes, and the [pinball machine] appears in the scene sporadically, for no more than a few seconds at a time. More importantly, the pinball machine is always in the background; it is never seen in the foreground. It never appears by itself or in a close-up. It is never mentioned and plays no role in the plot. It is almost aways partially obscured (by Gibson and pieces of furniture), and is fully visible for only a few seconds during the entire scene. The Designs (on the backglass and playfield of the pinball machine) are never fully visible and are either out of focus or obscured. Indeed, an average observer would not recognize the Designs as anything other than generic designs in a pinball machine.

Background reading: Ringgold v Black Entertainment Television, 126 F.3d 70 (2d Cir 1997). Also: Lebbeus Woods v Universal City Studios, et al, 920 F. Supp 62 (SDNY 1996).

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