Kienitz v. Sconnie Nation, LLC, No. 13-3004 (7th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
While a student at University of Wisconsin in 1969, Soglin attended the first Mifflin Street Block Party. Now in his seventh term as Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, Soglin wants to shut down the annual event. For the 2012 Block Party, Sconnie sold 54 t-shirts and tank tops displaying an image of Soglin’s face and the phrase “Sorry for Partying.” Photographer Kienitz accused Sconnie of copyright infringement. Sconnie conceded starting with a photograph that Kienitz took at Soglin’s inauguration that it downloaded from the city’s website. The picture was posterized, background was removed, and Soglin’s face was turned lime green and surrounded by multi-colored writing. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, applying the fair use statutory defense to infringement, 17 U.S.C. 107. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that a shirt is no substitute for the original photograph; Kienitz does not argue that defendants reduced demand for the original work or any use that he is contemplating. Defendants removed so much of the original that, “as with the Cheshire Cat, only the smile remains.” What is left, besides a hint of Soglin’s smile, is the outline of his face, which cannot be copyrighted. Defendants chose the design as a form of political commentary, not for profit.