Summer of Love (and Knockoffs) Continues with Jewelry Copyright Case

Brighton Collectibles, a Los Angeles women's fashion accessories company, has filed a copyright infringement suit against Macy's over alleged infringement of its “Reno Heart Bracelet” and “Reno Heart Necklace” designs. This suit continues a summer of cases involving high profile knockoffs, and follows on the heels of the Puma copyright and trademark infringement suit against Forever 21.

Brighton's original complaint was filed on June 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and alleges copyright infringement by Macy's jewelry designs that "are strikingly similar...to Plaintiff’s copyrighted designs." An amended complaint was filed on July 17, and adds estimated actual damages of $10 million as an alternative to statutory damages.

Brighton bases its infringement claims on a 2014 U.S copyright registration for the Reno Heart design, claiming "that this registration is adequate for purposes of suing for infringement of the entirety of the Reno Heart Bracelet and Reno Heart Necklace designs." However, "in an abundance of caution," Brighton says it "has filed separate applications for the entirety of the Reno Heart Bracelet and Reno Heart Necklace designs."

Brighton also asks for injunctive relief, and a motion for a preliminary injunction will most likely be their next step, which could in all likelihood determine the course of the litigation. The law in this area is well-developed in the 9th Circuit, and the complaint's reference to the "strikingly similar" infringing designs is key. Due to the "thin" copyright protection generally afforded to jewelry that incorporates natural elements, the "strikingly similar" standard of copyyright infringement will almost certainly apply rather than the "substantially similar" standard.

The protection for the copyrighted designs will likely be "thin" because Brighton's designs are based on hearts, which no author can claim a monopoly over under the "scenes a faire" doctrine and its application to three-dimensional works. As the 9th Circuit said in a case that will likely play a key role in briefing, Satava v. Lowry (involving copyrightability of jellyfish sculptures):

"...no copyright protection may be afforded to the idea of producing a glass-in-glass jellyfish sculpture or to elements of expression that naturally follow from the idea of such a sculpture."

The same reasoning applied in Satava to jellyfish scultures will apply to works involving hearts. Thus, to prove infringement, Brighton will have to not only demonstrate that its heart designs are original enough for protection, but also that Macy's allegedly infringing designs are near-identical replicas, or knockoffs, of the copyrighted designs. This case will be followed by the CVL blog, so stay tuned.

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