The Québec Superior Court (the “S.C.”) recently threw out a copyright infringement lawsuit alleging that IKEA had copied a line of stuffed animals from a local artist. Notwithstanding the resemblance between the concepts of the stuffed animals at issue, the court rejected the suit offhand, because it did not relate to any work recognized as such by the Canadian Copyright Act.
The case at issue, Bouchard v. Ikea Canada (2021 QCCS 1376), which pitted a Québec-based artist to the international retailer, alleged that IKEA had illegally copied a line of stuffed animals from Ms. Bouchard, which it then sold in its stores as the Sogoskatt collection. Faced with what she perceived to be a copy of her works, Ms. Bouchard filed copyright infringement proceedings against several parties, including IKEA, before Québec courts.
Unfortunately for Ms. Bouchard, Ikea managed to torpedo her lawsuit at an early stage. To do so, it filed a motion to throw out the case outright because, at law, there really was no real issue to be tried. After examining the motion at issue, the S.C. agreed this case did not present any real issue the judicial system should bother analyzing and taking on. Since this case was introduced as a copyright matter, without any “works” to justify the proceedings at issue, the courts should refuse to further hear the case. Period.
The explanation of this rejection of the case resides in what Ms. Bouchard argued was hers and which IKEA had illegally copied. Namely, the artist testified that, notwithstanding IKEA’s own stuffed animals being different from her own creations, she considered that there were substantial similarities reproducing the distinctive “style” or “look” of her own line of stuffed animals. Unfortunately for her, as you probably know, copyright law does NOT deal well with abstracts like inspiration, ideas, concepts, styles, etc. Rather, copyright is generally concerned with specific works being copied to a substantial degree. Before looking at the substantial degree to which a work has been copied, however, you first need to have… well… a “work”, as defined by the Copyright Act. No work, no possibility of any infringement.
In the case at issue, the works which the artist alleged had been copied had not been copied, or if there was a copy, it was the copy of a style, of a certain look or that of a certain way to make stuffed animals. This, of course, did NOT constitute a copy of the works (the actual stuffed animals) themselves, only of a sort of concept for stuffed animals such as these.
As a result, the S.C. had little trouble throwing out Ms. Bouchard’s case against IKEA. Sorry, but alleging you have a monopoly over a certain style of something does not a monopoly make. Sure, you may be the inventor of a new style or concept of something, but that does not mean you have the exclusive rights to it, at least certainly not by virtue of copyright law. Had this case been presented based on invention or patent rights, industrial designs or trademarks, it may have stood a chance but copyright does NOT extend to abstracts like concepts, ideas and styles. It never did and never will.