Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, March 21, 2003


Page 1


Panel Rejects Copyright Protection for Jellyfish Sculptures


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A California glass artist cannot copyright his lifelike glass-in-glass jellyfish sculptures because they are not sufficiently distinctive, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

The panel overturned a preliminary injunction granted last year by U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell of the Eastern District of California.

Burrell enjoined Christopher Lowry, a Hawaii artist, from making or selling sculptures with “a vertically oriented, colorful, fanciful jellyfish with tendril-like tentacles and a rounded bell encased in an outer layer of rounded clear glass that is bulbous at the top and tapering toward the bottom to form roughly a bullet shape, with the jellyfish portion of the sculpture filling almost the entire volume of the outer, clear glass shroud.”

The judge ruled that Lowry’s sculptures appeared to breach several copyrights registered by Richard Satava. Lowry admitted that saw a picture of Satava’s sculptures in a magazine in 1996 and that a customer brought him a Satava sculpture to repair in 1997.

It was undisputed that Satava started making the sculptures, products of a centuries-old art form, several years before Lowry began making his.

But Judge Ronald Gould, writing yesterday for the Ninth Circuit, said Satava could not obtain copyright protection for his works because they were not “original” works within the meaning of the Copyright Act.

The originality requirement, the judge explains, means that ideas, or “expressions that are standard, stock, or common to a particular subject matter or medium are not protectable under copyright law.”

The judge elaborated:

“Satava may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish with tendril-like tentacles or rounded bells, because many jellyfish possess those body parts. He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish in bright colors, because many jellyfish are brightly colored. He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish swimming vertically, because jellyfish swim vertically in nature and often are depicted swimming vertically—.

“Satava may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish within a clear outer layer of glass, because clear glass is the most appropriate setting for an aquatic animal—.He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish ‘almost filling the entire volume’ of the outer glass shroud, because such proportion is standard in glass-in-glass sculpture. And he may not prevent others from tapering the shape of their shrouds, because that shape is standard in glass-in-glass sculpture.”

Gould acknowledged that a combination of unprotectable elements, taken together, might be something original and thus entitled to protection. But that is not the case with Satava’s sculptures, he said.

“The selection of the clear glass, oblong shroud, bright colors, proportion, vertical orientation, and stereotyped jellyfish form, considered together, lacks the quantum of originality needed to merit copyright protection,” Gould wrote.

The judge noted that the panel had looked at dozens of photographs of glass-in-glass jellyfish sculptures, and said in a footnote that they were basically similar, with each artist adding or omitting some standard element. The court would be allowing Satava “to fence off private reserves from within the public domain” if it allowed him copyright protection, Gould declared.

Judge Barry G. Silverman and Senior U.S. District Judge Charles R. Weiner, a visiting jurist from Philadelphia, concurred.

The case is Satava v. Lowry, 02-16347.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company