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LANGMAN FABRICS v. SAMSUNG AMERICA

July 2, 1997

LANGMAN FABRICS, a division of BLOCK'S FASHION FABRICS INC., Plaintiff, against SAMSUNG AMERICA, INC. and FASHION INITIATIVES, INC., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BAER

 Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., District Judge:

 This copyright infringement case involves the alleged copying by defendants of plaintiff's copyrighted fabric design. Both the plaintiff and the defendants moved for summary judgment. Because the plaintiff does not hold the copyright in the fabric design, or in the alternative because its copyright notice was defective, defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment denied.

 I. Background

 Langman Fabrics, a two-employee operation, *fn1" is a division of Block's Fashion Fabrics, which is a company that converts textiles. Langman Fabrics obtains designs for fabrics, either through Mr. Langman's ideas or by purchasing artwork from textile design studios, which Block's then uses in its conversion business. At issue here is plaintiff's fabric design "Pattern # L-303 Plume," which was created in 1984 and for which plaintiff received a Certificate of Registration on December 7, 1984.

 Defendant Fashion Initiatives ("Fashion") is a fabric broker that takes orders for fabric designs from garment manufacturers and forwards those orders to fabric manufacturers. Defendant Samsung America, Inc. ("Samsung") financed Fashion's transactions with its garment manufacturer customers for a fee. Fashion's customers may choose fabric designs from its library of design samples of printed and unprinted fabrics. Plaintiff claims that one of these patterns, Fashion's Pattern No. 1213, is a feather design that infringes on its copyrighted design.

 In December, 1995, Graff Californiawear, *fn2" a garment manufacturer submitted a purchase order to Fashion for 3000 yards of fabric imprinted with Pattern No. 1213. Samsung then issued a letter of credit and a purchase order to a Korean fabric manufacturer to purchase that fabric on Samsung's credit. Samsung then arranged for the importing of the fabric into the United States.

 II. Discussion

 Defendants argue that plaintiff does not own the copyright because the design was created by an artist who was not plaintiff's employee. Defendants also argue that plaintiff does not enjoy copyright protection in the design because plaintiff's copyright notice did not include the year of first publication as required by statute. Plaintiff argues that it authored the design and thus satisfies the "work for hire" doctrine and that it is excused from any defect in the copyright notice because the fabric is a "useful article" and as such is exempt from the year of first publication requirement.

 A. The Work for Hire Doctrine

 Pursuant to the Copyright Act, ownership of a copyright vests with the author of the work, the "party who actually creates the work, . . . the person who translates an idea into a fixed, tangible medium of expression entitled to copyright protection." Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 737, 104 L. Ed. 2d 811, 109 S. Ct. 2166 (1989) (citing 17 U.S.C. § 102). There is, however, an exception to this rule under the "work for hire" doctrine which provides "the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author" of the work and owns the copyright. § 102(b).

 In determining whether the work is a work made for hire the court must "ascertain, using principles of the general common law of agency, whether the work was prepared by an employee or an independent contractor." Id. at 751. In Reid, the Supreme Court outlined the factors pertinent to this inquiry, and the Second Circuit has adopted a "weighted approach" of the Reid factors, citing five factors that will be "significant in virtually every situation . . . and [which] should be given more weight in the analysis, because they will usually be highly probative of the true nature of the employment relationship." Aymes v. Bonelli, 980 F.2d 857, 861 (2d Cir. 1992). These factors include: "(1) the hiring party's right to control the manner and means of creation; (2) the skill required; (3) the provision of employee ...


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