Belair v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., 831 F. Supp. 2d 687 (S.D.N.Y. 2011)

Plaintiff owned the copyright in several images he created for use in Steve Madden advertisements. The series of images included two female figures that “resemble humans, [but] they have extremely long limbs, large heads, and tiny torsos.” One woman in the images is depicted as a devil, and the other as an angel. Defendant’s employee developed the idea for the line of Bratz dolls, and he gave preliminary drawings of the dolls to a sculptor. He also gave the sculptor a copy of one of Plaintiff’s photos, which the sculptor used to create a prototype of the Bratz dolls. Defendant began selling and manufacturing dolls using that prototype, and the dolls became very popular.

Plaintiff sued for copyright infringement, and Defendant moved for summary judgment. For the purposes of the motion, Defendant admitted that there was actual copying. Defendant argued, however, that there was no substantial similarity as to protectable elements. The district court noted that because of the actual copying, there were certainly some similarities between the Bratz dolls and Plaintiff’s angel and devil figures—“large heads, long limbs, and thin waists.” However, the court noted that in transforming the photo into “tangible figures,” which were clothed and painted, the Bratz dolls no longer looked like the devil and angel figures from Plaintiff’s photos. The court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no copyright infringement, and dismissed the case.

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