On April 14, 2015, the 2nd Division of the IP High Court rendered a decision as to whether a famous high chair for children named “TRIPP TRAPP” is protected under the Japanese Copyright Law.
This decision set a new standard as to the copyrightability of applied arts. Up to this decision, Japanese courts have required a high hurdle for applied arts to be protected as copyrightable works. In other words, in order to be protected as copyrightable works, applied arts must have an aesthetic feature equivalent to fine arts or works of artistic craftsmanship.
On the contrary, this IP High Court decision relaxed the requirement to be protected as copyrightable works. In other words, this decision did not require an aesthetic feature equivalent to fine arts or works of artistic craftsmanship in order for applied arts to be protected as copyrightable works.
Following is the gist of the decision.
1. First, because the plaintiff’s product named “TRIPP TRAPP” (plaintiff’s chair) is a chair for children and is mainly put to practical use, it is obvious that plaintiff’s chair does not constitute “works of artistic craftsmanship” which is protected as “an artistic work” under Copyright Law.
2. Second, under the Copyright Law, there is no express provision regarding applied arts which are put to practical use or are intended for industrial use. However, it is unreasonable that applied arts are not protected as copyrightable works only because it is put to practical use or is intended for industrial use. Thus, it should be construed that applied arts which do not constitute “a work of artistic craftsmanship” are protected as “an artistic work” under the Copyright Law when applied arts fulfill the requirement of “work” defined under the Article 2(1)(i) of the Copyright Law. It is not appropriate that high creativity such as “aesthetic feature” is always required for applied arts to be protected. Each applied arts should be judged individually and separately whether they show author’s creativity. Furthermore, standard of “aesthetic feature” is not clear because the definition of “aesthetic feature” depends on subjective evaluation and it is difficult to form a common recognition of “aesthetic feature”.
3. Some parts of plaintiff’s chair show author’s individuality and thus should be recognized as creative expression. Therefore, these parts of plaintiff’s chair constitute “an artistic work” and protected under the Copyright Law.
4. However, it is not recognized that in Katoji’s chair (defendant’s chair) there are any parts similar to those of plaintiff’s chair which are recognized as a creative expression and protected as “an artistic work”. Thus, defendant’s chair does not infringe plaintiff’s copyright.
As explained above, this IP High Court decision denied an infringement of the plaintiff’s copyright in conclusion because the scope of the protection as “an artistic work” recognized in the plaintiffs chair by the court was not so broad. However, this decision which mentions that applied arts can be copyrightable if they show creativity and it is not necessary to show high creativity may affect our practices much.
For example, this decision has a great influence on a maker and/or an importer of so-called generic furniture in Japan. Up to this IP High Court decision, it is thought that the design of famous furniture is protected only by the design right under the Design Law, which means that generic furniture maker/importer can freely make and/or import generic furniture after an expiration of the design right (20 years after the registration). However, it is now possible that generic furniture infringes the copyright of famous furniture even after an expiration of the design right. Although the scope of the copyright protection seems to be not so broad, it should be noted that characteristic design of famous furniture could be protected as “an artistic work” and generic furniture could infringe the copyright of the famous furniture (especially when the design of the generic furniture is a dead copy of the famous furniture).
On the other hand, on August 28, 2014, in the Forever 21 Appeal Case, the 3rd Division of the IP High Court also rendered a decision denying the copyrightability as applied arts of a fashion show, namely, [i] the makeup and hairstyling applied to each model; [ii] the selection of clothes to be put on and the mutual coordinates thereof; [iii] the selection of accessories to be worn and the mutual coordinates thereof; and [iv] the coordinates of the makeup and hairstyling, clothes and accessories, by citing the Supreme Court decision (1998 (Ju) 332) on September 7, 2000 as to the copyrightability of printing fonts and requiring a high hurdle for applied arts to be protected as copyrightable works.
Under such circumstances, each scope of and the relationship between the IP High Court decisions in the TRIPP TRAPP Appeal Case and the Forever 21 Appeal Case on the copyrightability of applied arts are unclear.