Cheney Bros. v. Doris Silk Corp. Case Brief

Summary of Cheney Bros. v. Doris Silk Corp., U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit (1930)

Parties: PL is the original creator of a piece of silk work; DF is the alleged copycat.

Cause of action/remedy sought: PL seeks an equitable injunction to last during the season against DF for silk design copy.

Procedural History: Appealed from So. Dist. for District of NY, which found in favor of DF. Affirmed in this court.

Facts: Cheney Bros. makes silk products with designs, which usually stay in store stock for the remainder of a particular sales season. It’s unknown which ones are more popular at the time of production or release. Nonetheless, DF copied, and sold at a reduced rate to PL’s, one of PL’s designs.

Issue(s): Under property law, does one business’s reprinting or copying of another product which is then sold at a cheaper price, affect business in such a way that it is so inequitable as to warrant a remedy?

Holding: No. There is no general law or common law rule which governs that one person’s chattel may be copied and sold as another’s own product.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The court finds Cheney wants to receive just “a little” equitable relief here, however there is no such thing as “a little.” There is either full relief or none at all. This is a case where there is no relief available.

PL relies on INS v. AP, which does deal with subject-matter which was recreated, but that case was not a be-all doctrine for the copying of goods (besides INS dealt with fair business practice, not damages). To make such a doctrine for all goods would be to expand Congressional power far beyond what this court feels the U.S. Supreme Court intended to when it decided INS. “TO exclude others from the enjoyment of a chattel is one thing; to prevent any imitation of it, to set up a monopoly in the plan of its structure, gives the author a power of his fellows vastly greater, a power which the Constitution allows only Congress to make.” There may some kind of equitable remedy available through legislation of the copyright law, but that is not urged here.

Rule: A man’s property is limited to the chattels which embody his invention. Others may imitate these at their pleasure. . . .

Did court avoid issues?: No.

Dicta: This court claims the case-at-bar to not be of first impression, but one that will not effectively contribute to a general doctrine of copyright law.

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