BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY, LTD. v. COREL CORP., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999)
The case rises about when the Library sues Corel Corp, a company which makes photographic copies of famous artworks from museums, works which are already in public domain, sued Corel Corps for using digital images of these arts in their CD-Rom without compensation and sued the corporation for copyright infringement. The court was now faced with reinterpreting the loosely written “originality requirement” set during Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co v. Sarony in l884 and reshape the copyright clause of the constitution. Bridgeman points out in its argument the special techniques and extra effort and time which has put into reproducing the artworks as precisely and accurately as it can, but it further points to the fact while the copying of the artworks require a great deal of admirable skills, they are not of original merit and does not have artistic values that give them the right to copyright protection. Judge Kaplan puts it, “sweat of the brow” vs. “creative spark.” While the techniques and skills are valuable assets, they are not characteristics of creative of which, the case defines as “elements of originality… may include posing the subjects, lighting, angle, selection of film and camera, evoking the desired expression…” These “elements” described in the case are not to be developed through training and effort, the way techniques require to make a perfect copy of a painting would, but requires a natural talent to capture creative moment on the two dimensional space. Because the works under question adamantly lack “distinguishable variation” and original input from the actual work that is being reproduced, no copyright protection can be granted.
Ultimately, Bridgeman v. Corel Corp ruled that two dimensional photographic reproductions of art already in the public domain were not copyrightable because the reproduction process of the art involved zero originality, which does not merit them the copyright production enjoyed by original works of photography.
This case provides a great support to the case because the case directly recognizes the lack of structure of the Sarony case and faces the difficulty of its broad definition by placing more aesthetic requirements for copyright protection. The case pinpoints to the public that originality that come from art is a matter of talent, not in the skills and efforts put into it. But the word talent is a very subjective and elusive term, as its meaning changes with societal perception and preferences. To base a legal clause on an intangible term fails to create a concrete standard for the society. Also, words used such as “distinguishable variation” and “creative spark” to describe works of original art create clear boundaries that we come to expect from the law. Observing from previous cases, it is apparent that no clear precedent was formed from one case to another, but the court created new aesthetic definitions of “original work of art” through case-by-case studies. Aesthetic decisions have created inconsistency and lack of predictability in copyright law.
Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)
The Supreme Court case, Feist Publications, Inc, v. Rural Telephone Service shows two arguments on issues of copyrighting facts. The case emerged when Feist Publication included numbers from Rural Telephone Service to be included in their own telephone book when Rural refused to share the information, and Rural sued for copyright infringement. The two main arguments are presented: one states that fact alone cannot be copyrighted, but compilations of facts can be considered an artistic input; therefore, the expression of fact in a "collection of words" can be copyrighted. However, the compilation of facts require a minimum degree of originality, and since copyright law only applies to creative aspects of the two dimensional work, a list of A-Z phonebook does not satisfy enough creativity or artistic merit to be qualified for copyright protection.
The Court ruled that Rural's listings did not meet the standards for “minimum creativity” and that the use of the listings did not constitute infringement. This decision emphasizes that copyright only extends protection to originality, not the amount of effort put into the creation of an artwork.
This recent case showcases a judicial activism in which the court uses aesthetic qualities to judge whether this particular compilation of facts, via phonebook, is under copyright protection. However, this decision complicates my argument greatly. Under Bleistein v. Donaldson, any artwork of a value should be granted copyright. Looking at the monetary value that the phonebook contains, the copyright should be granted, however its evidently low artistic value disqualifies the work of any copyright infringement. What is the minimum balance of artistic/tangible value that would grant a two dimensional artwork a copyright protection? Also, the case brings up demonstration of minimal originality as part of the qualification. The court only so far answers the question by saying that listing of facts is not providing enough creativity. Where does the line lie for minimal creativity? Aesthetic determination of the work seemed crucial in this case, for if the copyright was granted, the value of art in current society will diminish because creation of artwork has become so effortless and widespread, but perhaps it was because no clear quantitative standard to judging “minimum originality” was set by the legislature or the judiciary. The case weighs in on the necessity of aesthetic decision to promote progress, but also demonstrates that while aesthetic decision is good for case-by-case studies, it shows that lack of quantitative standards created inconsistency in what society has perceived as norms and requirements for a copyright protection over time.