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Ets-Hokin v. Skyy Spirits, Inc.

225 F.3d 1068 (2000)

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Ets-Hokin v. Skyy Spirits, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

225 F.3d 1068 (2000)

Facts

Joshua Ets-Hokin (plaintiff), a professional photographer, was hired by Skyy Spirits, Inc. (defendant) to photograph its vodka bottle. Ets-Hokin produced and delivered three photographs of the bottle in each of which the bottle appeared in front of a plain-white backdrop with back lighting. The bottle was illuminated from the left so that the right side of the bottle was slightly shadowed. The angle from which the photos were taken was perpendicular to the side of the bottle, with the label centered, giving the viewer a straight-on perspective. Just the bottle was pictured in two of the photographs, and a martini sat next to the bottle in the third. Under the terms of his engagement, Ets-Hokin retained all rights to the photos and licensed limited rights to Skyy, but the parties disputed the scope of the license. Ets-Hokin obtained certificates of registration for his series of photos. Skyy claimed it was unsatisfied with Ets-Hokin’s photographs and hired other photographers to photograph its vodka bottle. Ets-Hokin brought suit against Skyy for copyright infringement after finding his photos in various advertisements, allegedly without his permission and in violation of the license. Ets-Hokin also alleged that Skyy used photographs taken by the other photographers that mimicked his own photos. Specifically, Ets-Hokin claimed that these photographers improperly used his photographs to produce virtually identical photos of the vodka bottle. Skyy, in turn, argued that Ets-Hokin’s photographs were not subject to copyright protection and filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted on the ground that Ets-Hokin had failed to establish the validity of his copyright. Ets-Hokin appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (McKeown, J.)

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