It is basic copyright law that an idea is not protected by copyright. Only the expression of that idea in some tangible form is protected. Anyone can create a comic book about a man that came from another planet as a baby and obtained super powers on earth, but only DC comics has the right to portray "Superman" or anyone who is confusingly similar. Anyone can paint abstract portraits, but only Picasso, or his heirs, have the right to reproduce his abstract portraits.

It is this writer's interpretation of a recent case that the courts may be streching the concept of tangible expression. A 1996 U.S. District Court decision held that an artist's drawing of a chamber with a high ceiling, where a chair was mounted on a vertical rail on one wall with a sphere suspended in front of the chair, was infringed upon by a major film in which a main character is strapped to a similar chair in a similar room, with a sphere suspended in front of the chair. It was even admitted that the film's director had seen a copy of a book that contained the artist's drawing.

Wasn't the director merely inspired by the concept of the drawing, or was he copying it? You be the judge, but the federal court judges may not agree with you.


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copyright 1997 David M. Spatt, All rights reserved

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