A toymaker has infringed LEGO A/S’s copyrighted minifigures by selling nearly identical figurines, a federal court has ruled.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut July 25 tentatively granted LEGO’s bid for summary judgment on its copyright claim against Best-Lock Construction Toys Inc., on the grounds that Best-Lock improperly copied the minifigure’s creative elements.
LEGO adequately showed that Best-Lock copied its minifigure design because the dimensions, shape, and proportions of the two company’s models are “visually indistinguishable,” the court said.
The decision highlights the difficulty in identifying an object’s artistic elements, which can be protected by copyright, from design elements that simply allow the object to function.
The infringement ruling is contingent on a trial finding that Best-Lock reasonably believed LEGO wouldn’t sue it in the U.S., a defense that would bar the claim.
The court rejected Best-Lock’s argument that several aspects of the minifigure, such as the shape of the torso and the feet, are functional and can’t be protected by copyright law. Best-Lock had argued that the trapezoidal shape of the torso simply enables better movement of the arms, and that the figurine’s square feet allow it to stand.
LEGO torso shapes are a creative element because only the minifigure’s joints enable movement, the court said. No evidence suggests the distance between the figure’s hands when the arms are lifted is “anything more than an aesthetic feature,” it said.
Comparable minifigures, such as those created by Mega Brands Inc., can stand upright on rounded feet, so a figurine doesn’t need square feet to function, the court said.
Day Pitney LLP, counsel for LEGO, and Murtha Cullina LLP, representing Best-Lock, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Senior U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight issued the opinion.
The case is LEGO A/S v. Best-Lock Construction Toys Inc., D. Conn., No. 3:11-cv-01586-CSH, 7/25/19.