Yes, the law probably protects even light-bulb photographs

October 26, 2011

A Maple Grove company that sells light bulbs on the internet is asking a Minnesota federal judge to order a competitor to stop using its light-bulb photographs on its website.

Service Lighting, which began selling on the internet in 1996, filed its copyright infringement lawsuit on Tuesday.  The lawsuit alleges that Ohio-based buylights.com has failed to remove the photographs from its website despite repeated demands.

According to the complaint, Service Lighting has aggressively protected its copyrights by making more than two dozen demands for other retailers to remove the pictures from their websites.  But the lawsuit alleges that buylights.com has not complied.

Are simple photos of light bulbs protected by copyright law?  Likely, yes.  A photograph has to have some creativity for copyright law to apply, but the creativity need be only minimal.  It doesn’t need to be a great work of art.

Of course, that means bloggers and social media types are violating copyrights all the time.  Facebook friends who choose, say, a Minnesota Lynx logo as a Facebook profile pic technically are committing copyright violations (unless they had permission from the Lynx to do so).

But in reality, companies and other copyright owners rarely enforce their copyrights — unless the alleged violator tries to make a buck.  And that is what is alleged to be happening here.

The case has been assigned to Judge Patrick Schiltz.

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