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Broderbund v. Unison World

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Citation Edit

Broderbund Software, Inc. v. Unison World, Inc., 648 F. Supp. 1127, 231 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 700 (N.D. Cal. 1986) (full-text).

District Court Proceedings Edit

The district court followed the precedent set in Whelan v. Jaslow,[1] of protecting the program's structure, sequence, organization, but the court applied and extended this principle to the protection of the program's visual displays. While the plaintiff originally made a number of claims pertaining to its greeting card application program called "The Print Shop," only the question of infringement of the audiovisual copyright in the screen displays was tried to the court.[2]

In rejecting the argument that the functionality of the program dictated the expression of its user interface, the district court noted that:

On the 'Choose a Font' screen, no mechanical or practical factor compelled [defendant] to use those exact words ('Choose a Font'). He could have written: 'Select a Font,' or 'Indicate a Typeface Preference,' or 'Which Type Style Do You Prefer,' or any combination of these terms. . . . The bottom line is that the designer of any program that performed the same functions as 'Print Shop' had available a wide range of expression governed predominantly by artistic and not utilitarian considerations.[3]

However, the court held that a sequence of menu screens, forming a "user interface," was copyrightable, noting "stylistic creativity" in the screens beyond the basic instructions conveyed by them.[4]

On the question of sufficient similarity to justify a finding of infringement, the district court said "[t]he question is whether the infringing work captures the 'total concept and feel' of the protected work."[5] In finding infringement, the Court stated that "[t]he ordinary observer could hardly avoid being struck by the eerie resemblance between the screens of the two programs. In general, the sequence of the screens and the choices presented, the layout of the screens, and the method of feedback to the user are all substantially similar."[6]

Thus, the Broderbund court used the holding in the Whelan case to extend the protection of audiovisual copyrights in computer programs beyond their literal displays. The court also implied, without directly addressing, that a single copyright in the greeting card program would protect all original aspects of the program.[7]

References Edit

  1. Whelan Assocs., Inc. v. Jaslow Dental Lab., Inc., 797 F.2d 1222, 230 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 481 (3d Cir. 1986)(full-text).
  2. 648 F. Supp. at 1129.
  3. Id. at 1134.
  4. Id. at 1134.
  5. Id. at 1137.
  6. Id.
  7. Id. at 1135.

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