Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, Inc.

191 F.2d 99 (2nd Cir. 1951)

This case demonstrates just how little "originality" a work needs to find protection under the copyright laws. Due to exclusive licensing agreements between Alfred Bell & Co. and various museums, they had sole access to various eighteenth and nineteenth century masterpieces. Alfred Bell created mezzotint reproductions of these paintings for sale. One such painting covered by this agreement was Thomas Gainsborough's Blue Boy.

Unable to access the public domain artwork, Catalda simply made copies of Alfred Bell's copies. In court, they argued that the mezzotints were not sufficiently original to constitute a new, copyrightable work. The court, however, disagreed, stating that "no large measure of novelty is necessary."

There still exists today a society of mezzotinters who communicate by email and exchange modern mezzotints.

Hover over the picture to see how similar, but not identical, the mezzotint copies were to the original.