Under French law, all forms of creative works can be protected by copyright independently of their type, form, merit or purpose: the work only has to be original, i.e. to reflect the personality of the author.
This protection is notably granted to applied works of art such as furniture, fashion goods (clothes, shoes, accessories, etc.), electrical appliances and so forth.
What is more, the claimant may benefit from a presumption of ownership arising from the disclosure of the works under his or her name and without their having to evidence the creation of the work.
After what may be deemed the golden age for the right holders, the current trend of case law seems to limit the scope of protection or at least to be more apt to the respect the conditions of protection: The Courts have become more and more restrictive in their assessment of the originality of the work and more demanding as to the demonstration of proof of ownership.
However, copyright protection in France may still have a bright future ahead of it following a recent decision of the Court of First Instance in Paris rendered on February 8, 2013, and concerning a pair of sandals created by CHRISTIAN DIOR COUTURE.
Indeed, the luxury brand recently won a copyright infringement claim against a French shoe seller that sold sandals reproducing the main esthetic characteristics of the “EXTREME DIOR” sandals.
CHRISTIAN DIOR discovered the litigious sandals in a Parisian shop and immediately performed a saisie contrefaçon not only at the shop but also at the registered office of the alleged infringer (The saisie contrefaçon is an official seizure of the alleged counterfeiting good authorized by the Court and executed by a bailiff, in order to gather evidence an infringement).
Based on this saisie contrefaçon, CHRISTIAN DIOR sued the shoe seller, notably on grounds for copyright infringement.
In its defense, the shoe seller challenged DIOR’s ownership of the copyright on the “EXTREME DIOR” sandals as well as its originality, claiming that all of its characteristics already existed in prior art and were in line with the current fashion trends.
However, the Court disagreed. It first confirmed that CHRISTIAN DIOR was entitled to benefit from the presumption of ownership stemming from the disclosure of the sandals under its name as evidenced in dated catalogues, invoices and promotional materials.
Then the Court ruled that the “EXTREME DIOR” sandals were entitled to copyright protection, underlining that the originality was based in the combination of the characteristics notwithstanding the fact that each of the characteristics separately was banal or part of the public domain.
Finally the seized shoes were determined to be counterfeit for reproducing the cited original combination found in the “EXTREME DIOR” sandals.
In the end, copyright protection for applied art works might still have a long road ahead of it!