Copyright of Textile Designs – Clarity and Confusion in the Second Circuit

For decades textile designers have sought without success to check the piracy of their patterns. Numerous bills aimed at protecting designers have failed in Congress. Until recently, the few federal courts which had considered the question had held that neither the Copyright Act nor the common law afforded protection. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Mazer v. Stein, however, it seemed that relief might at last be available. In that case the Court held that the utilitarian purpose of an object did not exclude it from copyright protection. The Copyright Office revised its regulations to include textile designs within the scope of the act; yet the regulations left unanswered a number of difficult problems in the practical realization of this protection.

Judge Learned Hand, in Cheney Bros. v. Doris Silk Corp., felt compelled to write that while relief had to be denied, “it would seem as though the plaintiff had suffered a grievance for which there should be a remedy …. ” It was therefore entirely appropriate that it was also Judge Hand who ·wrote the first appellate opinion sustaining the copyright on a textile design, Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp. The opinion has been subject to some misinterpretation, and it seems well to review exactly what was decided. This article will discuss the opinion, one which followed close on its heels, and several of the problems raised.