Neri v. Monroe

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright, Fair Use
  • Date Filed: 02-26-2014
  • Case #: 11-cv-429-slc
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24176
  • Westlaw Citation: 2014 WL 793336
  • Full Text Opinion

When a photograph of a work of art was transformative, despite it being a creative work, fair use was found.

Opinion (Crocker): Plaintiff Quincy Neri (“Neri”) is a glass blowing artist. Defendant Melinda Monroe (“Monroe”) is president and co-owner of defendant Architectural Building Arts (“ABA”). ABA is a general contractor design/build firm. Defendant Eric Ferguson (“Ferguson”) is a professional photographer. ABA was hired by Linda Hughes to remodel her condominium. Neri created a composition comprised of individual blown glass pieces that were installed onto the remodeled ceiling of the entryway. Before beginning work at the condominium, Monroe obtained permission to take photographs of the entire remodeling project. The photographs were then posted on ABA’s website with Hughes’ knowledge. Neri visited ABA’s website and saw two photographs taken by Ferguson that depict some of the art glass pieces. Before then, Neri had not attempted to copyright, market, or create derivative works from the sculpture. Neri applied for and received the copyright to the sculpture, then filed suit, claiming infringement. Defendants claimed fair use. The Court applied the traditional four-factor test for the fair use doctrine. As to the first factor, the purpose and character of the use, the court found Ferguson’s photographs to be transformative, and leaned in the defendants’ favor. The second factor, the nature of the copyrighted work, favored the plaintiffs because the sculpture is a creative work. The third factor requires a court to examine the amount and substantiality of what was used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Because none of Ferguson’s pictures depicts every glass piece of the sculpture directly or entirely, and because Ferguson did not “copy” the sculpture, but only photographed it, the court found the third factor to weigh in defendants’ favor. Finally, as to the fourth and most important element in fair use analysis, there was no evidence that the photographs had any detrimental effect on the market for the sculpture or on any other original works by Neri, and thus the fourth factor weighed in defendants’ favor. Motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants was GRANTED and all of Plaintiff’s motions were DENIED.

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