Case NameUnited Feature Syndicate, Inc. v. Jeff Koons
Citation: 817 F. Supp. 370 (S.D.N.Y. 1993)
TopicsCopyright & Fair Use

United Features Syndicate owns the rights to the Garfield comic strip. In 1986-7, contemporary artist Jeff Koons produced a set of sculptures for the Sonnabend Gallery in New York. UFS sued Koons for copyright infringement based on one sculpture in the exhibition entitled Wild Boy and Puppy. UFS alleged that Wild Boy and Puppy is an unauthorized reproduction of Odie, a character in the Garfield strip. Koons admitted that his sculpture was based upon Odie’s image, but argued his sculpture did not violate copyright laws because it was intended as a parody, and because the sculpture is protected by fair use.

UFS moved for summary judgment against Koons on the issue of whether the manufacture and sale of the Wild Boy and Puppy constituted copyright infringement. The Southern District Court for the State of New York granted summary judgment to UFS, because Koons’ sculpture was not protected by fair use, nor was it a parody.  Under the four-part fair use test, the court found that

(1) Koons copied Odie’s image primarily for commercial reasons, rather than to benefit the public;

(2) Odie is a fictional, imaginative work deserving of copyright protection;

(3) Koons’ statute was a complete replica of Odie; and

(4) Koons’ sculptures may harm the market value of United Features’ copyright in Odie.

The court held that the sculpture was not a parody or satire because by Koons’ testimony, he produced the sculpture to criticize society as a whole, rather than the character of Odie specifically.  

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.