Layout is a word of multiple meanings in copyright. In Incredible Technologies, Inc. v. Virtual Technologies, Inc, 400 F.3d 1007 (7th Cir. 2005), the Seventh Circuit rejected as functionally determined the “layout” of controls on a video game. By contrast, in General Universal Systems, Inc. v. Lee , 379 F.3d 131 (5th Cir. 2004), the Fifth Circuit considered the layout of computerized database invoice statements at the infringement stage. Obviously, in both architecture and maps, layout is a critical element of originality. In Reader’s Digest Association v. Conservative Digest, 821 F.2d 800 (D.C. Cir. 1987), the District of Columbia of Appeals held: “None of the individual elements of the Reader’s Digest cover—ordinary lines, typefaces, and colors—qualifies for copyright protection. But the distinctive layout of those elements is entitled to protection as a graphic work,” Similarly, in Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 663 F. Supp. 706 (S.D.N.Y. 1987), the court held “one can hardly gainsay the right of an artist to protect his choice of perspective and layout in a drawing, especially in conjunction with the overall concept and individual details.” Layout has also been used in connection with the arrangement of a catalog/compilation.
In an opinion dated Decmber 5, 2006, Sartor v. Walters, 2006 WL 3497856 (W.D. LA.) a claim of layout in a magazine survived a summary judgment motion, although the opinion appears to be an example of the blind leading the blind. As an initial matter, plaintiff's apparent lack of standing went unnoticed. Plaintiff and defendant had started a magazine, Home Essentials, which lasted only two issues. Defendant then started a new magazine, Home Construction and Rennovation, which is still going. The opinion is silent about the structure of Home Essentials, who owned it and how, and whether it still existed at the time suit was filed. Plaintiff was described as suing "individually and in her capacity as a representative of " the magazine, neither of which facially accord ownership and therefore standing. On top of things, plaintiff also sued for advertisements appearing in the magazine. The court dismissed the claim, but not on the obvious ground that plaintiff didn't own rights in them (the advertisers likely do), but because the certificates of registration for the magazine don't list the advertisements. If plaintiff did own the ads (the only way she could sue, of course), then the collective work registration would cover all copyrightable content contained therein.
On the layout claim, the nature of the claim was stated to be
"The layout includes the words “HOME” prominently displayed at the top. The cover has a vertical bar on the left side, on which the date and edition are written. A horizontal bar beneath “HOME” intersects the vertical bar, with the horizontal bar including “Resource.” Featured articles are listed to the right of the vertical bar, with a photograph dominating the right-hand side.
The layout of the editorial page, or the page including the magazine's masthead and message from the editor, has double lines that border the masthead. The editorial consists of 2/3 of the page, and the masthead consists of 1/3 of the page. The layout of the sidebar design mimics a tabbed card. The title of the sidebar is featured on the tab.
The articles alternate between a two-column layout and three-column layout, depending on the graphics and story length. The title of an article is superimposed over a photograph or graphic."
OK, its a summary judgment motion, but that doesn't sound like a lot. And given the grievous oversights in the rest of the opinion, one does wonder.