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Seiler vs. Lucas Film, Ltd.

797 F.2d 1504 (1986)

FACTS:

Lee Seiler, an artist and designer of science fiction


creatures and machines brought copyright infringement action
against the producers and creators of the movie “The Empire
Strikes Back.” Seiler claimed that creatures known as Imperial
Walkers infringed his copyright on his own creatures called
Garthian Striders. He contended that he created and published
his Garthian Striders in 1976 and 1977 and that
George Lucas copied these. Because Seiler possessed no
originals of any work he contended was copied, he sought to
introduce secondary evidence in the form of copies,
reconstructions, and the like. He proposed to exhibit his
Striders in a blown-up comparison to Lucas’ Walkers
at opening statement. The district judge held an evidentiary
hearing on the admissibility of the reconstructions of the Striders.
Applying the best evidence rule, the court found that Seiler lost
or destroyed the originals in bad faith
and consequently no secondary evidence, su
c h a s t h e p o s t E m p i r e S t r i k e s B a c k reconstructi
ons, was admissible. The court granted summary judgme
nt to Lucas after the evidentiary hearing. Seiler appealed.

ISSUE:

Whether Seiler’s drawings constituted “writings” for


purposes of authentication and proof of documents

RULING:

Yes. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district judge. It


held that Seiler’s drawings were “writings” within the meaning
of Rule 1001 (1) which defined writings and records as “letters,
words, or numbers, or their equivalent, set down by handwriting,
typewriting, printing, Photostatting, photographing, magnetic
impulse, mechanical or electronic recording, or other forms of
data compilation.” According to the Court, Seiler’s drawings
consist not of “letters, words or numbers” but of “their equivalent.”

The Court said that to recognize Seiler’s works as writings


does not run counter to the rule’s preoccupation with the
centrality of the written word in the world of written
legal relations. Comparing Seiler’s drawings with Lucas’
drawings is no different in principle than evaluating a contract
and the intent behind it. Seiler’s works are “writings” that
affect legal relations; their copyright ability attests to that. A
creative literary work and a photograph whose contents are
sought to be proved are both covered by the best evidence
rule. It would be inconsistent to apply
the rule to artwork which is literary or photographic but not to
artwork of other forms.