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M. Kramer Manufacturing v. Andrews

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Citation Edit

M. Kramer Manufacturing Co. v. Andrews, 783 F.2d 421 (4th Cir. 1986) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

The plaintiff, M. Kramer Manufacturing, is a New Jersey corporation that markets various electronic, coin-operated video games, including the game at issue here: an electronic card game based on draw poker. Lynch Entertainment and Drews Distributing also manufacture and market various electronic, coin-operated video games, including games similar to those at issue here.

The defendants Hugh Andrews, Jr. and Tim Caldwell are citizens of South Carolina. The other defendants are Drews Distributing Inc., Drews Distributing Co. (collectively Drews Distributing) and Lynch Enterprises, Inc. ("Lynch"). Andrews is the president and sole shareholder of Drews Distributing and therefore controlled all Drews Distributing activities. Andrews is also the sole stockholder of Lynch.

M. Kramer Manufacturing produced a computer video poker game. Subsequently, Andrews had an engineer take ROMs from M. Kramer's game and make minor changes to them. M. Kramer Manufacturing sued Andrews for copyright infringement. The changes that Andrews made to M. Kramer’s game included inserting the name of Andrew’s company on the screen displays and changing some of the wording displayed on the screen during the game. Thus, the changes involved a video arcade poker game that was a variation on an existing, copyrighted poker video game with only some small changes. Andrew's version of the game had an additional “Hi-Lo” feature that allowed the cards to flash on screen, and the option of a split-screen mode.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

Although the changes that Andrews made to M. Kramer’s game were minor, the court held that they were sufficiently original contributions to justify separate and new copyright protection for the entire game.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The Court of Appeals held that a copyright in the audiovisual display protects the audiovisual from copying, and also protects the underlying computer program to the extent that the program represents the game's expression. The program in ROM was held to be a copy in which the audiovisual work is fixed.

Therefore, defendants' actions of taking Andrew's game and making minor changes to it were held to be a copyright infringement of M. Kramer's copyrights.

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