Cheney Brothers v. Doris Silk Corp.
35 F.2d 279, 281 U.S. 728 (1930)

  • Cheney Brothers made silk fabric. Every year they would come out with new patterns and designs.
    • Cheney couldn’t secure patents or copyrights on all their designs because they weren’t sufficiently unique from one another, and it would be cost prohibitive because they had lots of designs and each design was only popular for a short time.
      • Also, at the time the Copyright Office didn’t accept “patterns” as something copyrightable.
  • Doris waited around to see which of Cheney’s patterns became popular, then copied them and produced cheap knock-offs. Cheney sued.
  • The Trial Court found for Doris. Cheney appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Cheney’s designs were not copyrighted, and as such, there was no law that would allow Cheney relief.
      • “In the absence of some recognized right at the common law or under Statute, a man’s property is limited to the chattels with embody his invention. Others may imitate these at their pleasure.”
    • The Court felt that the decision in International News Service v. Associated Press (248 U.S. 215 (1918)) should not be interpreted broadly enough to cover this case.
      • They really thought that the Supreme Court made a mistake in that case.
    • The Court agreed that Cheney had suffered harm, and that there should be some type of remedy, but that remedy didn’t exist at common law, and the legislative branch should probably amend copyright law to address these sorts of issues.
      • Copyright law was eventually changed and currently would allow designers like Cheney to stop knockoff products like Doris’.