In mid-February, the Russian Intellectual Property Court issued an interesting decision, in which it indicated when filmmakers have to obtain a copyright owner’s consent for use of a movie prop.

Under the auspices of the case, Pan Press Publisher filed a lawsuit against Ren-TV TV Channel and AN-film Production Company claiming that its book cover design was illegally used in an episode of a comic TV series.

Russia book cover
The book (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy) appeared in a famous comic TV series, which made the TV channel’s attorneys giggle nervously before the Russian IP Court

The first instance and appeal courts satisfied the claims, despite the respondents’ defence that the book cover had not brought any sense or artistic value, which should have led the courts to classify it as an ordinary movie prop and apply the fair use doctrine.

To much regret on the part of the respondents, the IP Court upheld the findings of the lower courts. The panel of judges concluded that the players’ dialogues and actions as well as other plot details were intended to focus the viewer’s attention on the particular book by Leo Tolstoy, featuring the claimant’s design on the cover. As the book was an essential part of the plot, it was recognised as a “plot generating object” that falls outside the scope of the fair use doctrine.

The IP Court’s ratio decidendi in this case made it clear that the issue of whether a particular prop is a “plot generating object” or an ordinary functional element should be determined by judges based on the factual background of each case (e.g., artistic value, length of time shown, purpose of use).

Along with the decisions in Louis Vuitton vs. Nidan Soky (2009) and Сarte Blanche Greeting Ltd vs. Dalan-Story (2016), the IP Court’s interpretation of what constitutes a “plot generating object” could be of particular interest for the enforcement of IP in the sphere of filmmaking.

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