New York artist Maya Hayuk was approached by an advertising agency working for Starbucks, to see if she would assist them with a proposed advertising campaign. Ms. Hayuk is known internationally for her paintings using bold colors, and vibrant geometric shapes – rays, lines, stripes and circles.
She declined the offer to work with Starbucks (too busy) and was surprised when she saw the final marketing campaign for the Starbucks Frappuccino product. The marketing materials, including artwork on Frappuccino cups, websites, and on signage at Starbucks’ retail locations and promotional videos, were strikingly similar to Hayuk’s artworks. The artist promptly launched a copyright infringement lawsuit against both Starbucks and its advertising agency, claiming that Starbucks created artwork that was substantially similar to her paintings and further, the Starbucks material appropriated the “total concept and feel” of her paintings, even though there was no “carbon copy” of any particular painting.
Last week, A US District Court handed down its decision in Hayuk v. Starbucks Corp and 71andSunny Partners LLC (PDF) (Case No. 15cv4887-LTS SDNY). It is well settled that copyright does not protect an artist’s style or elements of her ideas. The court denied the claim that any copyright infringement occurred. In analyzing the two images, the court notes that the proper analysis is not to dissect, crop or rotate particular elements or pieces of the two works and lay the isolated parts side-by-side, but rather to look at substantial similarity of the works as a whole. The court concluded that “Although the two sets of works can be said to share the use of overlapping colored rays in a general sense, such elements fall into the unprotectible category of ‘raw materials’ or ideas in the public domain.” [Emphasis added] Thus, there could be no finding of substantial similarity and the claims were dismissed.
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