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Jetmax Ltd. v. Big Lots, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 28, 2017

JETMAX LIMITED, Plaintiff,
v.
BIG LOTS, INC., ADVANCE INTERNATIONAL, INC. and HERBERT FEINBERG, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          KATHERINE B. FORREST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case centers around a copyright infringement dispute between plaintiff Jetmax Limited (“Jetmax”) and defendants Big Lots, Inc. (“Big Lots”), Advance International, Inc. (“Advance”), and Herbert Feinberg (“Feinberg”) regarding Jetmax's Metal Wire Wrapped Tear Drop Light Set (the “Tear Drop Light Set”), the subject of U.S. Copyright Registration No. VAu 978-587 (the “‘587 Copyright Registration”). The Tear Drop Light Set is an ornamental light set comprised of a series of molded, decorative tear shaped covered lights with a wire frame over the covers.

         Now before the Court is plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 34) and defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 42). Plaintiff seeks a judgment that defendants have willfully infringed the ‘587 Copyright Registration through their sale of a substantially similar light set. (See Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment of Willful Copyright Infringement (“Pl.'s Mem. in Supp.”), ECF No. 35, at 6.) In opposition, and in furtherance of their cross-motion, defendants argue that plaintiff does not own a valid certificate of copyright registration and that the Tear Drop Light Set is not copyrightable. (Defendants Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and in Support of Defendants Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (“Dfs.' Mem. in Supp.”), ECF No. 42, at 4-5.) Specifically, defendants argue that the Tear Drop Light Set is not copyrightable because it is a useful article and because it lacks originality. (Id.)

         As discussed below, the Court determines that under the Supreme Court's recent decision in Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 S.Ct. 1002 (2017), the Tear Drop Light Set contains artistic elements that “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” See 17 U.S.C. § 101. Accordingly, the Court rejects defendants' argument that the Tear Drop Light Set in its entirety it is not entitled to copyright protection as a useful article. The Court also finds, however, that there are genuine disputes of material fact concerning whether plaintiff owns a valid certificate of copyright registration covering the Tear Drop Light Set and whether the Tear Drop Light Set is sufficiently original to warrant copyright protection. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED and defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment is also DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Factual Background

         Jetmax is a Hong Kong corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells a variety of furniture, lighting, and home décor items. (Defendants Response to [sic] Jetmax Limited's Statement of Material Facts on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defs.' 56.1 Resp.”) ¶¶ 1, 20, ECF No. 45.) At the heart of the instant dispute is the Tear Drop Light Set, manufactured and offered for sale by Jetmax. (Id. ¶ 32.) The Tear Drop Light set, as depicted below, is an ornamental light set comprised of a series of molded, decorative tear shaped covers with a wire frame over the covers.

         (Image Omitted.)

         (Declaration of Reena Jain in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment of Willful Copyright Infringement (“Jain Decl.”) Ex. 1, ECF No. 36-1.)

         The Tear Drop Light Set was designed in 2004 and has been on sale since September 2005. (Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 24, 32.) The set contains a string of lights that are each surrounded by a plastic, tear drop shaped, iridescent cover. The plastic covers each contain eight sets of double grooves. (Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶ 67.) Each cover is in turn surrounded by a wire frame comprised of eight pieces of wire that rest between the double grooves. (Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶ 67.) A plastic stone hangs from the tip of each wire frame. (See Jain Decl. Ex 14 at 3.)

         The Tear Drop Light Set, along with seven other light sets, is the subject of the ‘587 Copyright Registration. (Plaintiff's Responses to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts (“Pl.'s 56.1 Resp.”) ¶¶ 5-6, ECF No. 53; Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶ 29; see Affirmation of Harlan Lazarus in Opposition to the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and in Support of Defendants Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (“Lazarus Aff.”) Ex. A, ECF No. 43-1.) Jetmax claims authorship of the ‘587 Copyright Registration, a fact that defendants dispute. (Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.)

         Defendant Advance, a New York corporation engaged in the wholesale manufacturing industry, produced the allegedly infringing product (the “Advance Light Set”), depicted below. The Advance Light Set has been sold at defendant Big Lots's stores since early 2015. (Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 42-43; Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 8-20.) Similar to the Tear Drop Light Set, the Advance Light Set has a teardrop shaped plastic cover with eight sets of double grooves, as well as a decorative wire frame containing eight pieces of wire and the come together in a question mark form. (Defs.' 56.1 Resp. ¶ 67.) The Advance Light Set does not contain an ornamental dangly and the cover does not have an iridescent finish. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 17.)

         (Image Omitted.)

         (Jain Decl. Ex. ...


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