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HGTV Beats Designer’s Product Placement Fuss

MANHATTAN (CN) - The real estate brokers behind HGTV's "Selling New York" are not liable for using virtual images of a furniture designer's popular line, the 2nd Circuit ruled.

Heptagon Creations launched its Andre Joyau furniture line in 2000, later picking up endorsements from fashion designer Donna Karan, film director Sydney Pollack and sculptor Joel Perlman.

Playboy Magazine chose the line for its corporate offices, and Korean Air invited its first-class customers to lounge on Heptagon creations at the Los Angeles International Airport, Heptagon said.

The designer claimed its line also caught the attention of Core Group, a New York-based real-estate broker, and Plesko & Rael, an architecture firm.

Thomas Rael, the architecture firm's managing partner, allegedly approached Heptagon about featuring the line on "Selling New York" in August 2010 to drive publicity and exposure.

Heptagon said it initially agreed with the arrangement, but ultimately pulled out because Core refused by buy an insurance policy on the furniture.

Undeterred, Core allegedly went ahead with a Jan. 13, 2011, episode of "Selling New York," in which it tried to sell a Park Avenue condominium for $5.95 million.

Heptagon said the realtor had trouble selling the unfurnished space until they screened images of Andre Joyau furniture on the walls of the property.

Core allegedly sold the condo for close to the list price, earning a $353,400 commission.

Heptagon later filed a federal complaint against the two firms and Rael, alleging copyright infringement of nine pieces of furniture: a cocoon chair, cross table, form table, a Shimne vase, a Tate chaise and three floor lamps.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 22, 2011, holding that federal copyright law does not protect utilitarian furniture.

The U.S. Copyright Office rejected the designs on that basis.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit affirmed dismissal Friday.

"Copyright protection does not extend to 'useful articles,' but individual design elements that comprise a portion of a utilitarian article may be eligible for copyright protection if the design element is either physically or conceptually separable from the article's functional elements," the unsigned four-page order states.

Judges Guido Calabresi, Debra Ann Livingston and Gerard Lynch agreed that Heptagon designed its furniture with an eye toward utility, making the pieces unsuitable for copyright protection.

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