Re: Aphorisms and Copyright

From: Cumbow, Robert-SEA <CUMBR[_at_]PerkinsCoie.com>
Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 10:11:39 -0700

On Wed, August 12, 1998, Bob Stock <bstock[_at_]ucla.edu> wrote:
>
> Ashleigh Brilliant comes up with pithy sayings and registers them with
> the US Copyright Office. To find out more about Brilliant, you can take
> a peek at his website at:
>
> http://ashleighbrilliant.com/
>
> Brilliant claims that "the copyrights have been upheld in U.S. Federal
> Court." According to a 1997 Wall Street Journal article, Brilliant
> obtained $1,000 from Random House to license the use of the title of
> David Brinkley's book, "Everyone is Entitled to my Opinion." Brilliant's
> "original" saying was "everybody is entitled to my opinion." Random
> House did not acknowledge the validity of Brilliant's copyright in the
> phrase but paid him anyway. You can see an copy of the Journal article
> quoted in full in a web post at:
>
> http://sunsite.unc.edu/pjones/ils310/msg00073.html
>
> The article refers to a case called Brilliant v. W.B. Enterprises, but
> without a cite. According to the article, this case supports the notion
> that "short, catchy phrase[s]" are protected under copyright law. Has
> anyone ever heard of this case? Anyone have a cite? Is it on the web
> somewhere?
>
> Conventional copyright wisdom is that such short phrases are not
> copyrightable, but I haven't read the case referred to (and can't find
> it on the Internet).

ASHLEIGH BRILLIANT v. W. B. PRODUCTIONS, INC., No. CV 79-1893-WMB, 1979 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9092 (C.D.Cal., October 19, 1979).

It's a short order. Entire text follows:

OPINION: JUDGMENT       WILLIAM MATTHEW BYRNE, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE       This action having duly come on for trial before this Court, the Honorable Wm. Matthew Byrne, United States District Judge, presiding, and the evidence presented by the parties having been heard, and the Court having made its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,

      IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED:

  1. That the plaintiff complied with the Copyright Laws of the United States and obtained and is the owner of valid, subsisting and enforceable copyrights with regard to each of the following epigrams in suit:
      Epigram No. 1: 
        
      "I MAY NOT BE TOTALLY PERFECT, 
       BUT PARTS OF ME ARE EXCELLENT." 
        
      Published October 15, 1973 
      Registration Certification No. A-506390; 
        
      Epigram No. 2: 
        
      "I HAVE ABANDONED MY SEARCH FOR TRUTH, 
      AND AM NOW LOOKING FOR A GOOD FANTASY." 
        
      Published October 21, 1975 
      Registration Certification No. A-703713; 
        
      Epigram No. 3: 
        
      "I'M IN SEARCH OF MYSELF -- 
      HAVE YOU SEEN ME ANYWHERE?" 
        
      Published July 28, 1971 
      Registration Certificate No. A-285585. 

      2.  That the defendant has infringed plaintiff's copyrights in
Epigrams Nos. 1 and 2.

      3. That the defendant has not infringed plaintiff's copyright in Epigram No. 3.

      4. That the defendant, its agents, officers, attorneys and employees and all acting in concert or participation with them, be and hereby are permanently restrained and enjoined from offering for sale or selling heat transfers containing expressions identical or substantially similar to plaintiff's epigrams set forth above.

      5. That the defendant deliver up for destruction on or before the first day of November, 1979, to the Clerk of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, at his or her office in the United States Courthouse in Los Angeles, California, all infringing transfers now in its possession, or under its control, or which may hereafter come into its possession or control.

      6. That the plaintiff recover from the defendant statutory in-lieu damages under Sec. 101(b) of the Copyright Act of 1909 (Title 17, United States Code), in the amount of $ 5,000.00 for infringement of plaintiff's Epigram No. 1, above, and in the amount of $ 2,500.00 for infringement of plaintiff's Epigram No. 2, above, for a total award of damages of $ 7,500.00.

      7. That the plaintiff recover from the defendant his reasonable attorney's fees in this action, which by stipulation of the parties are determined to be $ 10,000.00.

      8. That the plaintiff recover from the defendant his costs of suit, which by stipulation of the parties are determined to be $ 500.00.

      9. That the jurisdiction of this Court is retained for the purpose of making any further orders to carry into effect this judgment.

        
      Dated: October 17, 1979


Not very helpful, I know, but it gives you an idea of what went on.

Bob Cumbow
Perkins Coie LLP
cumbr[_at_]perkinscoie.com
206-583-8566 Received on Thu Aug 13 1998 - 17:12:02 GMT

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