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A Girl's Best Friend (or Faux)

Caution:  Bad lawyer joke ahead.

Q.  What's the difference between a lawyer and a pit bull?

A.  Jewelry.

OK, back to the intellectual property & jewelry issue.  If copyright law is supposed to protect creative works, shouldn't fine jewelry and costume jewelry receive the same treatment?

Not so fast.  The answer is yes -- but it took a couple of lawsuits by storied costume jewelry manufactuers in the 1950s to make that clear.  In Trifari, Krussman & Fishel, Inc. v. Charel Co., 134 F. Supp. 551 (S.D.N.Y 1955), the defendant argued that the copied Trifari pieces were mere "junk jewelry" and not subject to copyright.  The court disagreed with the contention that costume jewelry could not be copyrighted, citing the applicable regulation listing "artistic jewelry" among protectable "works of art."  The opinion continued:

Costume jewelry may express the artistic conception of its 'author' no less than a painting or a statute....  Simply because it is a commonplace fashion accessory, not an expression of 'pure' or 'fine' art does not preclude a finding that plaintiff's copyrighted article is a 'work of art' within the meaning and intendment of the Act.

Although the court focused on the copyrightability of costume jewelry generally, rather than on the distinction between precious gems and paste suggested by the defendant, this opinion was the first to clarify the status of costume jewelry under U.S. law.  A few years later, another court reached the same conclusion in Boucher v. Du Boyes, Inc., 253 F.2d 948 (1958).  Faux jewelry may be more democratic than its "real" counterpart, but it is no less an art form.

In fact, while costume or travel jewelry often imitates more expensive pieces, sometimes the tables are turned.  In his artistic memoir, Faking It, Kenneth Jay Lane offers several anecdotes about wealthy admirers of his costume jewelry who have had it copied -- in precious stones.  Apparently no legal action ensued.