The Eleventh Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for the defendant and found that a design for laminate flooring was sufficiently creative to merit copyright protection.

Manington Mills, Inc. and Home Legends LLC both sell laminate wood flooring. The flooring includes a decorative layer that often looks like wood.

Manington had a design called “Glazed Maple,” made using a digital photograph of fifteen “stained and apparently time-worn” maple planks.

Mannington did not photograph authentically old wood planks to create the design. Instead, Mannington employees began with raw maple planks. Using hand tools and layers of stain, the employees added gouges, dents, shadowing, and other features. The team then experimented with different arrangements of the boards, used a digital scanner to photograph the boards, then further manipulated the digital images.

Mannington registered the copyright for the floor design in 2010.

The Lawsuit

In 2012, Mannington discovered that Home Legend was selling a flooring product that was virtually identical to the Glazed Maple design.

After Mannington sent Home Legend a cease-and-desist notice, Home Legend filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the copyright was invalid. Mannington counterclaimed for copyright infringement.

The district court granted summary judgement to Home Legend on three alternative grounds, one of which was that the Glazed Maple design lacked sufficient originality to be an “original work of authorship” under copyright law.

The district court found that the design was merely “a design depicting or copying elements found in nature — the look of a rustic, aged wooden floor.”

The Court of Appeal disagreed, noting that the Mannington designers did not simply scan old wooden planks. Instead,

they imagined what a deeply stained maple floor might look like after years of wear, and then they used stain, paint, hand tools, and digital photo retouching to express their concept first on wood and then as digital images. Ideas alone are not protectable… But if the expression of an idea is sufficiently creative, that expression is protectable.

The case is Home Legend, LLC v. Mannington Mills, Inc.

Takeaway

As we previously discussed, “works produced by nature, animals, or plants” (including monkey selfies) are not eligible for copyright protection.

However, as this case shows, a work created by manipulating materials so that they only appear to be natural can be protectable under copyright law.