Two Strikes and You’re Out: Copyright Protection Denied to Aqua Creations for Chandelier Designs
Aqua Creations USA Inc. and Aqua Creations LTD ("Aqua Creations") sued Hilton Hotels Corporation ("Hilton Hotels"), asserting that Hilton Hotels appropriated Aqua Creations' chandelier designs.
It was a bit of an uphill battle because the Copyright Office already refused registration of the designs. Unfortunately for Aqua Creations, the Court agreed with the Copyright Office that the designs were not copyrightable and the case was dismissed. A possible alternative approach for Aqua Creations may have been to obtain a design patent--if the timing was right.
Generally, to bring a federal copyright infringement claim, a Plaintiff must already own a valid copyright registration for the alleged infringed article. However, where the Copyright Office has refused registration, an unsuccessful copyright applicant may bring an infringement action and the courts will make an independent determination as to copyrightability. In this case, following a line of cases beginning with a 1954 Supreme Court decision, the Court confirmed that unless the creative elements in a “useful article” can be separated from the useful elements, the creative elements are not copyrightable. Thus, just as the Copyright Office had denied copyright, so too the Court held the chandelier designs were not copyrightable and Aqua Creations’ case was dismissed.