Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Now You See It -- Now You Still See It!

One prerequisite to copyright protection is fixation. A work must be fixed in a tangible medium so that the embodiment is sufficiently permanent or stable to be perceived for a period of more than "transitory duration." So sayeth the Copyright Act. Under this statutory definition of fixation, is a garden filled with shrubbery and flowers fixed? The Seventh Circuit does not think so. Last February, the Seventh Circuit determined that the constant growth of plants in a garden destroyed the fixation, and thus the copyrightability, of a garden. And three weeks ago, the federal court in California (Kim Seng Company v. J. & A. Importers, Inc., CV 10-742) held that there cannot be copyright in a sculptured food dish, determining that food is perishable and, well, not fixed.

I don't know about anyone else, but I can store an arrangement of food on a plate in my refrigerator for more than a "transitory duration." I did so in college and I still do so. This is just the way it is in real life! Indeed, an examination of my refrigerator will reveal food that has been sculptured on a plate for days. Since copyright is not claimed in taste, but in appearance of food on a plate, a several day chill-out in my frig is not "transitory." As for the Chicago public garden, if the shrubs and flowers in Chicago grow as slowly as mine on the Pacific Coast, is a shrub and flower display really transitory? Just because a lawn is mowed weekly does not mean that  there cannot be a lawn sculptor, right? I mean, aren't brass statues polished periodically? Aren't old paintings touched up every decade or so? Aren't photos enhanced, cropped, stapled, mutilated and put back together?

Does the Supreme Court really need to explain the meaning of transitory to us?

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