CALL US: 206.533.3854
CALL US  206.533.3854
AEON Law logo full color transparent

Copyright Law Can Protect Fake Works of Nature

Unnatural acts:
Copyright law can protect
Fake works of nature

As we discussed in this blog, works of nature, animals or plants — such as monkey selfies and paintings by elephants – aren’t protected by copyright law.

In addition, “works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author” aren’t registerable with the US copyright office.

This restriction would prohibit a claim “based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by the ocean.”

But what about a work that’s supposed to look like it was shaped by nature – but actually wasn’t?

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a design for laminate flooring that was supposed to look like “stained and apparently time-worn” maple planks involved enough human creativity to merit copyright protection.

Mannington Mills and Home Legends are companies that sell laminate wood flooring. Most such flooring includes a layer intended to look like wood.

Mannington registered the copyright for its “Glazed Maple” design in 2010, then discovered in 2012 that Home Legend was selling a nearly identical design and sent its competitor a cease and desist notice.

The district court found that the design lacked sufficient originality to be an “original work of authorship” under copyright law.

The Court of Appeals disagreed. Mannington didn’t simply take photos of old wooden planks. Instead, the company’s designers created an idealized version:

[T]hey imagined what a deeply stained maple floor might look like after years of wear, and then they used stain, paint, hand tools, and digital photo retouching to express their concept first on wood and then as digital images.

As the Court of Appeals noted,

Ideas alone are not protectable… But if the expression of an idea is sufficiently creative, that expression is protectable.

The case is Home Legend, LLC v. Mannington Mills, Inc.

The takeaway here is that if someone wants to copyright a design based on nature, rather than simply making a photographic image of the natural object they should approximate or interpret it using artificial means.

Related Articles

AEON Law Founder Adam Philipp Ranked Among Leading IP Lawyers in Chambers USA Guide

AEON Law founder Adam Philipp is included in this year’s Chambers USA guide of the leading IP attorneys in AEON’s home market of Washington. Based ...
Read More

AEON Law and Founder Adam Philipp Ranked Among World’s Top Patent Professionals in IAM Guide

AEON Law and founder Adam Philipp are recognized in this year’s IAM Patent 1000: The World’s Leading Patent Professionals. Adam was recommended for patent prosecution ...
Read More

Understanding the Dawn Donut Rule for Trademarks

In trademark law, the general rule is that, where two parties seek to use the same trademark in the same geographic area, the earlier (“senior”) ...
Read More

Let's work together.

Contact us to set up a meeting with an attorney or team member.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive Patent Poetry—a monthly roundup of key IP issues in our signature haiku format. Four articles (only 68 syllables); zero hassle.

SECTORS

HIGH
TECHNOLOGY

Artificial Intelligence

Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Computer Technology & Software

Consumer Electronics

Electrical Devices

MECHANICAL
& PRODUCTS​

Cleantech

Mechanical Devices

Consumer & Retail Products

Hardware & Tools

Toys & Games

LIFE SCIENCES
& CHEMISTRY​

Biotechnology

Chemical Compounds

Digital Health

Healthcare Products

Pharmaceuticals

BRANDING
& CREATIVE​

Books & Publications

Brand Creation

Luxury Products

Photography & Video

Product Design

call us  206.533.3854

SERVICES

PROTECT

DEAL

DEFEND