The recent result upheld a ruling from a decade old copyright case involving images from the classic movies “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind,” as well as several “Tom and Jerry” shorts.
The background to the case was that Leo Valencia, head of several nostalgia and vintage companies, obtained film images from publicity materials including posters. Valencia licensed these images for consumer products including shirts, lunch boxes, music box lids, playing cards, and as models for statuettes and action figures.
Warner filed a suit against Valencia and his companies, claiming copyright and trademark infringement. Valencia’s defense has argued the images were in the public domain because they were publicity material.
A court ruled in the studio’s favour and after a couple of appeals by the defendant the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis upheld that ruling. They further stated copyright infringement occurred when the publicity images were used in three-dimensional objects.
Damages were awarded to Warner Bros amounting to $10,000 for 257 copyright infringements.
The decision is an important one as it could set a precedent in the entertainment industry addressing the boundaries of public domain material.