Expert Article Library

Similarity of Expression to be Decided by Ordinary Reasonable People

Case Name: Rottlund Co. Inc., v. Pinnacle Corp. (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Date: June 20, 2006

Expert: Architectural expert. Jeffrey Scherer

Issue: Whether an expert can testify as to whether architectural drawings bear a similarity of expression to copyrighted drawings? Similarity of expression is a matter to be decided by a jury using the ordinary reasonable person standard.

Summary of case: A home builder brought a copyright infringement claim against defendant based on copyrighted architectural design plans and architectural works.

Role of the expert: Scherer testified that the defendant’s design was not a copy of the Plaintiff’s design. He showed slides highlighting the differences that led him to believe the design was not a direct copy.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: The plaintiff contended that the District Court erred in admitting testimony from Scherer regarding substantial similarity. Substantial similarity of ideas had already been decided by the court, and the only issue left for the jury was similarity of expression. The Court of Appeals held that expert opinion and analytical dissection are not appropriate to establish or rebut similarity of expression, as that has to be decided by the jury comprised of ordinary reasonable people. Allowing expert testimony regarding that issue was error, and the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court.

Summary prepared by M. Lanzone, Student, University of California, Hastings College of Law