Monday, August 30, 2010

Eighth Circuit: Camp and Copyright, Medieval-Style

Recently, the Eighth Circuit decided a copyright case in favor of Camp Kitaki, a YMCA summer camp in Nebraska, and its KnightQuest, a medieval-themed, interactive play that teaches campers certain values.  In the past, the camp had used Kastleland, another medieval- and value-themed interactive play, but this ended in 1998, when its author, Tom Frye, broke ties with the YMCA.  A dispute and settlement with stipulated judgment followed.  The Y agreed not to infringe the Kastleland copyright and Frye, to not enter Y property without consent.  Camp Kitaki then used a program called Jungleland. 

In 2007, the camp introduced KnightQuest, a new medieval-themed program.  Frye sued in federal district court, alleging copyright infringement and contempt related to the stipulated judgment.  The district court held in favor of the camp, finding no infringement and dismissing the case.

Upholding the lower court, the Eighth Circuit found that "Kastleland and KnightQuest are both [medieval-themed] interactive plays conducted at the same YMCA summer camp" and, in both, campers "join the characters on a quest and are guided through multiple challenges where they can acquire certain skills necessary to defeat the play's antagonists."  However, these "general idea[s] cannot form the basis for a copyright infringement claim," the panel said.  "[S]imilarities between two works that are limited to hackneyed elements" (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) do not make those works substantially similar.