SW Legal Educational Publishing

Program Producer Must Pay Poster Artist a Fee for Using Poster on TV Program Background
Description Artist saw her commercially successful poster appear in the background for 27 seconds during a TV sitcom. Appeals court held such usage is not de minimis and suit for infringement for failure to pay license fee for such use may proceed.
Topic Intellectual Property
Key Words Copyright, Infringement, Fair Use
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Ringgold owns the copyright on a work of art, "Church Picnic," which is reproduced as a poster. She saw the poster used in the set background of a TV sitcom. It was seen a total of 27 seconds during nine different scenes. She sued for copyright infringement for unauthorized use of the poster. The show producer claimed that the use of the poster was either de minimis or a fair use. Trial court granted summary judgment for defendant on grounds of fair use defense. Ringgold appealed.
Decision Reversed and remanded. "First, de minimis in the copyright context can mean what it means in most legal contexts: a technical violation of a right so trivial that the law will not impose legal consequences. From the standpoint of a quantitative assessment of the [TV program] segments, the principal four-to-five second segment in which almost all of the poster is clearly visible, albeit in less than perfect focus, reenforced by the briefer segments in which smaller portions are visible ... are not de minimis copying. [I]t must be recognized that visual works are created ... for their decorative value, and, just as members of the public expect to pay to obtain a painting or a poster to decorate their homes, producers of plays, films, and television programs should generally expect to pay a license fee when they conclude that a particular work of copyrighted art is an appropriate component of the decoration of a set."
Citation Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., ---F.3d--- (1997 WL 570161, 2nd Cir.)
126 F.3d 70 (2nd Cir., 1997)

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