[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Quilting Court Cases

Last Updated February 22, 2012

There are few federal court cases concerning quilts and quilting and copyright infringement that have gone to trial. Over 90% of federal lawsuits concerning infringement claims do not go to trial. The information on this page comes from the few court cases we have found as well as information we have located concerning lawsuits that have been settled. Some cases mention quilts but the quilts themselves are not the issue being litigated. Those cases are not listed because they are not relevant to our discussion.

Most of the descriptions of the cases are lifted from the court decisions themselves and only are edited in order to be more concise. Some we found in legal papers in law reviews. Any additions by us are in bold and in navy colored type.

Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., 126 F. 3d 70 - Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 1997.

This case primarily concerned the scope of copyright protection for a poster of an artistic work that was used as set decoration for a television program. The District Court for the Southern District of New York (John S. Martin, Jr., Judge) dismissed, on motion for summary judgment, her copyright infringement suit against Black Entertainment Television, Inc. ("BET") and Home Box Office, Inc. ("HBO"). The District Court sustained defendants' defense of fair use. The Court of Appeals concluded that summary judgment was not warranted, and therefore reversed and remanded for further consideration of plaintiff's claim

The copyrighted work. Faith Ringgold is a successful contemporary artist who created, and owns the copyright in, a work of art entitled "Church Picnic Story Quilt" (sometimes called "Church Picnic" or "the story quilt"). "Church Picnic" is an example of a new form of artistic expression that Ringgold has created. Ringgold calls the form a "story quilt design." These designs consist of a painting, a handwritten text, and quilting fabric, all three of which Ringgold united to communicate parables

The alleged infringing use. HBO Independent Productions, a division of HBO, produced "ROC," a television "sitcom" series concerning a middle-class African-American family living in Baltimore. After the children have taken some lessons, the minister of the church suggests that they give a recital in the newly-remodeled church hall. A five-minute scene of the recital concludes the episode. The "Church Picnic" poster was used as a wall-hanging in the church hall.

In the scene, at least a portion of the poster is shown a total of nine times. In some of those instances, the poster is at the center of the screen, although nothing in the dialogue, action, or camera work particularly calls the viewer's attention to the poster. The nine sequences in which a portion of the poster is visible range in duration from 1.86 to 4.16 seconds. The aggregate duration of all nine sequences is 26.75 seconds.

The main issue revolved around the use of the art work without her permission.

Brown v. McCormick, 87 F. Supp. 2d 467 - Dist. Court, D. Maryland 2000.

This suit, alleging copyright infringement and related causes of action, arose out of a dispute over the use of plaintiff's quilt block patterns during the filming and merchandising of the motion picture (the "movie") How to Make an American Quilt. Both the novel and the movie concern a group of women quilters and their relationships. As a result, the story frequently refers to quilts and quilting. In fact, one particular quilt, entitled "Where Love Resides," serves as the unifying plot device, as the main group of characters undertakes to create this new quilt as a wedding present for the character Finn.

As pre-production for the movie proceeded in August 1994, the studio retained Ms. McCormick, then President of the Southern California Council of Quilt Guilds, as a technical consultant. The studio artists "knew practically nothing about quilts," and their designs showed this lack of knowledge. In September 1994, Ms. McCormick became aware of the work of Ms. Brown, an African American quilter living in Maryland. Ms. McCormick telephoned Ms. Brown to propose that Ms. Brown design patterns for the fifteen quilt blocks of "The Life Before" quilt. Ms. Brown also asserts that ... she informed Ms. McCormick that she would design the fifteen quilt block patterns, "on condition that she would retain the copyright in all her designs," for $750.

Given the validity of Ms. Brown's copyright in her designs and the evidence of unauthorized copying, the Court found that Ms. Brown had established a prima facie case of copyright infringement.

The studio's consumer products division, MCA/Universal Merchandising, Inc. (now known as Universal Studios Consumer Products, Inc., and referred to as "Universal Merchandising"), began the process of licensing merchandising rights associated with the movie. This process included images of the quilt block patterns. The Court found that McCormick infringed Brown's copyrighted Wedding Block. Accordingly, all displays of the Marriage Block were infringing. That included the display of the "Where Love Resides" quilt in the Movie, in the t-shirts and tote bags promoting the Movie, and in the tie-in book, Where Love Resides. Further, McCormick was not entitled to display the "Where Love Resides" quilt on television or at quilt shows. The J ohn Simpkins fine art print, however, did not infringe Brown's copyright. The "Where Love Resides" quilt as it appeared in the print is rendered suggestively and with insufficient detail to infringe. With respect to "The Life Before" quilt, the Court found that the defendants were entitled to display it in the Movie, but not on television, at quilt shows, or in the tie-in book.

The Court concluded that none of the defendants' infringements were willful. Moreover, the substantial damages sought by Brown are not supported by the evidence, including Brown's requests for injunctive relief and award of attorneys' fees. By separate Order, the Court shall, however, awarded Brown

  • (i) actual damages against McCormick in the amount of $50;
  • (ii) actual damages against Amblin in the amount of $2.35;
  • (iii) statutory damages against McCormick in the amount of $ 7,000; and
  • (iv) statutory damages against Universal, M & FM, and Patchwork in the amount of $ 7,000.
Brown received $16,058 which did not cover her legal fees.

Judi Boisson v Banian 273 F.3d 262 (2nd Cir. 2001).

Suit claimed defendant illegally copied two quilt designs for which plaintiffs had obtained copyright registrations. Following a bench trial, the trial court, in denying the claims of copyright infringement, ruled that defendants' quilts were not substantially similar to what it deemed were the protectible elements of plaintiffs' works. Plaintiffs appealed the ruling.

In reviewing this decision, the Court of Appeals found plaintiffs' copyrights cover more elements than were recognized by the trial court, and that though the trial court articulated the proper test when comparing the contested works, its application of that test was too narrow. It failed not only to account for the protectible elements ... but also to consider the overall look and feel brought about by the creator's arrangement of unprotectible elements. Hence, the Court disagreed with part of the district court's ruling and find some instances of copyright infringement. The trial court's disposition of those claims was reversed and remanded for a determination as to what remedies should be awarded.

In 1991 plaintiff designed and produced two alphabet quilts entitled "School Days I" and "School Days II." Each consisted of square blocks containing the capital letters of the alphabet, displayed in order. The blocks are set in horizontal rows and vertical columns, with the last row filled by blocks containing various pictures or icons. The letters and blocks are made up of different colors, set off by a white border and colored edging.

The Court recognized that the copyright covered the quilt design of Boisson, alphabet blocks, but only as far as her design was concerned and not other desihns of alphabet blocks. .

Thimbleberries, Inc. v. C & F ENTERPRISES, 142 F. Supp. 2d 1132 - Dist. Court, Minnesota 2001.

Plaintiff Thimbleberries, Inc. ("Thimbleberries") and its owner, founder and chief designer, Lynette Jensen ("Jensen"), have designed and sold quilt patterns and fabric designs since 1988. In 1989, Jensen created a quilt pattern depicting a Christmas wreath adorned with a bow, called the "Countryside Wreath." Jensen and Thimbleberries displayed the pattern at quilting shows in Denver and Houston in 1989, and the design also appeared in the book America's Best Quilting Projects, published by Rodale Press in 1993. In January 2001, Thimbleberries obtained a copyright for the design.

When Jensen saw a nearly identical copy of her original wreath pattern depicted on table linens marketed in a Charles Keath ("Keath") catalog in October of 2000, she contacted a lawyer, who demanded that Keath cease all sales of its allegedly infringing tablecloth and table runner designs. Based on defendants' refusal to cease production and sales, Thimbleberries filed this an infringement lawsuit and moved for a preliminary injunction. Defendants denied that their table runner and tablecloth infringed on Thimbleberries' design and filed a cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings.

To the ordinary observer, the two designs are, for all practical purposes, identical: the shapes of the designs are identical. Finally, the court concluded that the two works are so strikingly similar as to preclude the possibility that defendant's designer independently arrived at the same result.

1. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied. 2. Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is granted.

Pem-America, Inc. v. Sunham Fashions, LLC 83 F. App'x 369 (2d Cir. 2003).

One quilt manufacturer against another. The owner of the copyright registration was not an individual quilt designer or her company but, rather, a linen manufacturer. Pem-America contended that the defendant, Sunham Fashions, infringed on the design of its "Velvet Garden" quilt. In applying the two-part test for unauthorized copying, the Appellate Court determined that the "actual copying" requirement had been proven by evidence that the defendant had a "reasonable possibility" of access to the original design.

This is an unpublished case.

Nadelstern v. Couristan, Inc. et al., No. 06 CV 0248 (JFK) (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2006).

In October 2006, Paula Nadelstern, a prominent quilt designer, filed a copyright infringement claim against the carpet manufacturer Couristan, Convention Center Hotel Corporation, Hilton Hotels Corporation, and the interior design firm Wilson & Associates alleging copyright infringement of thirteen of her kaleidoscope designs after they reproduced them on carpeting. The carpet manufacturer, Couristan, admitted in its reply that, "the interior designer firm Wilson & Associates 'provided copies of the designs and instructed Couristan to use the designs in the carpeting.

The case was settled without a trial.

KAM HING ENTERPRISES, INC. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 2009

In the proceedings plaintiff alleged that defendants' copied the "Morning Dew" quilt design-which was designed by E&E and sold by Wal-Mart who also infringed on plaintiff's copyright for its "Clarissa" quilt design. The District Court granted plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of infringement, finding that the two quilts displayed "striking similarity."

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

All of the court cases listed above share one main factor: the unauthorized copying of a quilt design. That is illegal and it should be. But not one of the cases involves the use of a quilt design pattern that was purchased and then used to make and then sell the quilt. Likewise none of the cases cover the designer issue of public display of a quilt made from a lawfully obtained quilt pattern. While quilt designers claim that both are illegal, none have taken the issue to trial, or possibly to court, that we can find.

Anyone having verifiable information about court cases not listed here please contact us so we can add the cases to the list.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]