Teller v. Dogge

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright, Claim Elements
  • Date Filed: 03-20-2014
  • Case #: No: 2:12-CV-591 JCM (GWF)
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: United States District Court for the District of Nevada
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36712
  • Westlaw Citation: 2014 WL 1153459
  • Full Text Opinion

In order to prove a claim of copyright infringement, plaintiff must have a valid copyright and sufficiently show the defendant’s copying of original components of the work. Further, to demonstrate copying, plaintiff must show that the infringer had access to the copyrighted work and that the works at issue are substantially similar.

Opinion (Mahan): This suit for copyright infringement is brought by Teller, a well-known magician, against George Dogge, a Dutch performer, due to his creation of Internet videos claiming to explain one of Teller’s famous illusions. The illusion, entitled “Shadows”, was registered by Teller as a dramatic work with the United States Copyright Office in January of 1983. In March of 2012, Dogge put two videos on YouTube showing him perform a very similar illusion to “Shadows.” To increase traffic of his videos, Dogge included “Penn” and “Teller” as keywords in the titles of his videos. Even though Teller did not register “Shadows” until seven years after his first performance, the court found that Teller owned a valid copyright in the illusion as a dramatic work and a pantomime, and not as merely a magic trick. In order to prove the element of actual copying by Dogge, Teller must show that he had access to the copyrighted work and that the works at issue are substantially similar in their protected elements. Teller proved Dogge’s access to the illusion by presenting the descriptions of Dogge’s videos where he admitted to seeing Penn & Teller perform “Shadows” multiple times. The court then found that the two works at issue were substantially similar, a finding supported by the fact that during the videos, Dogge specifically points out subtle differences between his illusion and Teller’s. Based on these findings, the court GRANTED Teller’s motion for summary judgment on the claim of copyright infringement.

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