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Say “quilt,” and the usual image that arises is of sweet-faced grandmothers gossiping around a wooden frame in a church social hall. But these days quilts show up in court, and are hot items in copyright litigation. In November, one such case will be argued before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and another will be tried in a New York federal court. One case, tried in May in New York, brought a $600,000 verdict to a Long Island quilt designer. In August, designer Barbara Brown was awarded $14,053 for the unauthorized use of one of her designs in connection with the film “How to Make an American Quilt.” Brown v. McCormick, 87 F. Supp 467. And earlier, artist Faith Ringgold won an infringement case involving an unauthorized use of the image of one of her quilts in a television sitcom. Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television Inc., 126 F.3d 70 (2d Cir., 1997). ‘QUILT LAWYER’ Paul R. Levenson of New York’s Kaplan, Gottbetter & Levenson is probably the best-known “quilt lawyer” around. He represents Judi Boisson of Southampton, N.Y., a former collector of antique quilts, now a designer, who has a multimillion-dollar business. Quilts that she designs are manufactured for her at Chinese factories and sold at high-end U.S. decorator shops. Boisson is quick to assert her copyrights, and Levenson has had to become expert about such things as “Missouri Stars” and “double saw-toothed borders.” On May 15, he will be in the 2nd Circuit, arguing that a quilt of Boisson’s, with giant-sized letters of the alphabet, is infringed on by a quilt called “ABC” made by Banian Ltd. Five days later, he will begin a jury trial in New York against San Francisco-based Pottery Barn Inc., over an allegedly infringing quilt that, like one of Boisson’s, contains eight-pointed pastel “Missouri Star” blocks on a white background. Boisson v. Pottery Barn, 99 Civ. 4159 JSR. One of the burdens that Levenson has to overcome is the fact that many quilt blocks and borders have been in the public domain for more than 100 years, and that the communal spirit that led pioneer women to make quilts is the polar opposite of the mindset of intellectual property law. That’s how Alexandra Nicholson sees it. Nicholson, an IP partner in the New York office of Seattle’s Davis Wright Tremaine, says quilters “do draw heavily on historically traditional common-law public domain images.” Potential jurors who are quilters or home sewers “would be very threatened” by Boisson’s claims of infringement, she predicts. But Boisson’s “selection, combination and arrangement of these elements is her original artistic creation” and is protectable under copyright statutes, Levenson insists. He looks to a U.S. Supreme Court case involving telephone directories, which held that a unique arrangement of individual unprotectable elements was entitled to copyright protection. Feist v. Rural Telephone Services Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991). Also, he is relying on the 2nd Circuit’s “more discerning ordinary observer” test, which is used to examine whether substantial similarity exists between two works. Knitwaves Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 966 (2d Cir. 1995). Home quilters are abuzz about Boisson’s copyright claims, but Levenson says her targets are commercial entities, not grandmothers making quilts for their own families. Pottery Barn is represented by Noel Cook of San Francisco’s Owen, Wickersham & Erickson, who declined to comment except to say that his client “will continue to vigorously contest the case.”

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