SW Legal Educational Publishing

Idea Expressed on T-Shirt not Protected by Copyright
Description Appeals court upheld dismissal of infringement claim and award of attorney fees to defendant whose souvenir t-shirts imitated the sentiment of copyrighted T-shirts but did not copy the original design.
Topic Intellectual Property
Key Words Copyrights, Infringement
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Matthews designs and sells souvenir T-shirts. One copyrighted shirt said: "Someone Went to Boston and got this me this shirt because they love me Very much." Around the writing were various drawings related to Boston. Competitor Freedman began to sell a shirt that said: "Someone Who Loves Me Went to Boston and Got Me this Shirt." The writing is surrounded by assorted items related to Boston. Matthews sued Freedman for infringement. Trial court ruled for defendant and awarded him $25,000 in attorney fees. Matthews appealed.
Decision Affirmed. No infringement occurred here as the shirts expressed similar ideas, but there was no direct copying of the expression on the original shirt. The underlying idea, even if original, cannot be copyrighted. The lettering was different; the words varied; and the items drawn around the words were different. The Copyright Act holds that courts "may" award attorney's fees to prevailing parties. Such awards are within the judge's discretion, even if the suit involved is not frivolous or in bad faith.
Citation Matthews v. Freedman, 157 F.3d25 (1st Cir., 1998)

Back to Intellectual Property Listings

©1998  South-Western, All Rights Reserved