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Pillow Fight! A Case of Cosy Copyright Infringement.


Image from Baker v K&K Interiors.


Renee Baker authored a short poem, Families are Like Quilts (depicted above) in 1989.  It’s a lovely poem, really, about the ups and downs of families, something to which we all can relate.  The entire poem reads:

Families are like quilts,
Lives pieced together,
Stitched with smiles & tears,
Colored with memories, and
Bound by love.

Ms. Baker may love her family, but she has no love for copyright infringers.  On April 5, 2012, she filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against K&K Interiors, Stein Mart, Debra McMurray d/b/a Creative Quilts and Carol Strawn d/b/a Full Life Photography alleging infringement of her Families are Like Quilts poem.  According to the lawsuit, the poem has been incorporated into three-dimensional works of art, which has been “outstandingly successful” for Ms. Baker.  She also sells a 2-dimensional stitching pattern bearing the poem within decorative stitching.

K&K is an Ohio wholesale supplier of Everyday and Seasonal home decor.  K&K supplied Stein Mart a decorative pillow that included an unauthorized copy of a substantial portion of Ms. Baker’s Families Are Like Quilts poem:

Families are like quilts,
stitched with memories
and bound by love
The complaint assets that K&K and Stein Mart’s print and electronic catalogues depicting the infringing products constitute separate instances of infringement.
Under copyright, only the author of a work of creative expression possesses the legal right to reproduce, transfer, display/perform or create derivative works based on the author’s original work.  Although the K&K and Stein Mart’s catalogues reproduce and display a pillow bearing an unauthorized derivative work of Bakers’ original poem, there are no damages resulting from these infringing promotional uses apart from the sales of the pillows themselves.  Thus, I expect that Ms. Baker’s claim for separate damages from the catalogues will fail.
The complaint also alleges that Ms. McMurray made and sold a quilt bearing an unauthorized copy of the Creative Quilts in 2007, which she subsequently displayed on her promotional website along with a caption including the text of the poem.  Since the statute of limitations for copyright infringement is three years after the claim accrues, Ms. Baker does not appear to have any claim relative to the quilts Ms. McMurray made.  However, unlike the photos of the pillows on K&K and Stein Mart’s websites, McMurray’s reprinting of the poem in a caption on her Creative Quilts website may constitute a separate instance of infringement (presuming the image is  promoting Ms. McMurray’s other products and services, and not quilts bearing the infringing poems).  Finally, according to the complaint, Full Life Photography included an unauthorized copy of a substantial portion of Ms. Baker’s “Families Are Like Quilts” poem on its website.
Baker seeks to permanently enjoin the defendants from infringing her work and asks the court for statutory damages and attorney’s fees as a result of the infringement.  According to an article on the Southeast Texas Record website, Baker filed a similar copyright infringement lawsuit against several craft shops in August, 2012, which case she voluntarily dismissed on Nov. 19, 2010.  Presumably these defendants also will settle quickly, as that’s sure to be less expensive than fighting with Ms. Baker.
It is risky to use someone else’s creative work without permission.  Unless you are certain that a work is in the public domain, it is safest to ask permission or forgo using someone else’s work unless you can bear the risk of becoming embroiled in federal court litigation.

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