(CN) - The 9th Circuit on Monday revived a Los Angeles fabric-printing company's claims that the retailer Aeropostale stole one of its floral designs.
The federal appeals court in Pasadena disagreed with the lower court that the design at issue, created in 2002 by L.A. Printex Industries, had little in common with one Aeropostale has used since 2006 to make shirts.
L.A. Printex Industries has sold more than 50,000 yards of the fabric registered as C30020 - a "repeating pattern of bouquets of flowers and three-leaf branches," according to the court.
When the fabric printer discovered Aeropostale's shirts, the company sued the retailer and its vendor, Ms. Bubbles Inc., alleging copyright infringement. L.A. Printex argued that the patterns were substantially similar, through reproduced in a crude and low-quality fashion by Aeropostale.
A federal judge in Los Angeles granted summary judgment to Aeropostale and Ms. Bubbles, however, finding that "no reasonable juror could find that the two works are substantially similar."
The 9th Circuit reversed Monday, ruling that the patterns were at least similar enough to survive summary judgment.
"Notwithstanding these observations by the District Court, our comparison of C30020 and defendants' allegedly infringing design leads us to conclude that a reasonable juror could find that the two designs are substantially similar," Judge Ronald Gould wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.
"It is true that the flowers, stems, and leaves in defendants' design are less detailed than those in C30020, and that defendants' design does not use multiple shades of color to give the flowers and leaves definition as does C30020," Gould added. "But a rational jury could find that these differences result from the fabric printing process generally and are 'inconsequential,' or could credit [plaintiff's] assertion that these differences result in part from 'print[ing] using cruder, lower quality techniques and machinery.'
"Moreover, because we conclude that stylized fabric designs like C30020 are properly entitled to 'broad' copyright protection, it is not necessary that defendants' design be 'virtually identical' to infringe." (Brackets added.)
Aeropostale and Ms. Bubbles also failed to show that summary judgment was appropriate because L.A. Printex's copyright registration had included a small error.
"The July 2002 certificate of registration for Small Flower Group A contained an error - the inclusion of two previously published designs in a work registered as an unpublished collection," the ruling states. "But that error in itself does not invalidate the registration or render the certificate of registration incapable of supporting an infringement action."
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