Technology giant Apple Inc. (“Apple”) was recently hauled into a Texas federal court for copyright infringement of skin tone emoji sets by the apparent creator of these well-known emojis, Cub Club Investment, LLC (“CCI”).
In 2013, Katrina A. Parrott (“Parrott”), CCI’s founder, developed five skin tone emoji sets named iDiversicons (“iDiversicons”) to help diversify the then limited pool of emojis following a discussion with her young son.
After developing iDiversicons, CCI registered images of the iDiversicons with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2013, and released the emoji sets on the Apple app store. CCI also pitched the emojis at various meetings in Silicon Valley throughout 2013 and 2014, including with Apple executives. In 2015, Apple released its own skin tone emojis. CCI claims that Apple is infringing the iDiversicons with its skin color emojis.
A side-by-side comparison of the iDiversicons and Apple emojis certainly show substantial similarities – the touchstone of copyright infringement of copyrightable works.
The big question in this case is whether skin tones are actually copyrightable. Apple says they are not. On November 24, 2020, Apple filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing: first, that the Copyright Act does not afford protection to an anatomical image of a body part, namely the emojis that reflect human body parts in various natural shapes.
Second, Apple contends that copyright protection does not apply to the color elements on such unprotected body parts; namely, copyright protections do not extend to mere variations of coloring. Finally, Apple claims that even if the emojis were protected by copyright, Apple did not copy the style, shape, or color of CCI’s emojis.
This is a fascinating copyright case and we await the Court’s determination of Apple’s motion to dismiss.
SLG has extensive experience advising clients on copyright, trade dress, misappropriation, and related intellectual property matters. We would be happy to assist your company navigate the potential legal conundrum presented by these and other issues. For more information, please contact SLG at firstname.lastname@example.org.