Harris v. Mattel, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright, Infringement
  • Date Filed: 06-21-2013
  • Case #: 12-CV-0404-JHP
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87277

Although the ideas found in two works were similar, substantial similarity was not found because the ordinary observer would not regard the works' aesthetic appeal as the same.

Opinion (Payne): Lisa Harris ("Harris") filed this action against Mattel, Inc. ("Mattel") alleging infringement on copyrighted material held by Harris. Since 2008, Harris has used the name Princess Charm School to create, market, and sell products including books, jewelry, teaching materials, and digital downloads. Harris was granted copyright protection for the cover of a subsequently produced Princess Charm School book sold in United States bookstores. Harris alleged that in 2011, Mattel produced and distributed numerous products using the Princess Charm School brand name, seeking compensation for damages. Mattel moved to dismiss based on the grounds that the Princess Charm School book cover art is not substantially similar to box art on Mattel’s Barbie Princess Charm School DVD. As a matter of law, a claim for copyright infringement requires that a person possess a valid copyright and the alleged copying of that protected material by the defendants. At issue in this case is the second element of a copyright claim, which itself requires two components: (1) Harris must prove that Mattel copied her work as a factual matter, and (2) that there was substantial similarity between Mattel’s product and the legally protected portions of Harris’s work. The court defined substantial similarity as whether "the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the works'] aesthetic appeal as the same." In this case, the court found that Harris’s claim of substantial similarity cannot be supported because the expression of the ideas in each product, albeit similar, does not satisfy the test set forth above. For the reasons stated, the court GRANTED Mattel’s motion to dismiss.

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