UnIntellectual Property (UnIP): Copyright for Idea of Placing Image on Lottery Ticket

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Defendant’s, District of Columbia (namely its Lottery Board), motion to dismiss an individual copyright owner’s copyright infringement lawsuit.  Plaintiff owned a registered copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office for “Get It Right Lotto Paper,” or GIRLP, which is an illustrated instructional manual that consists of betting slips for 3–digit and 4–digit lottery drawings designed for the handwritten input of selected numbers and highlights the benefits over standard betting slips, including the “revenue and marketing” potential of printing advertisements on the betting slips.  He had, for many years, attempted to discuss the idea with the Lottery Board, even as late as 2012.  He thus claimed that the Lottery Board created an infringing derivative work when it included advertising to bet slips as part of its commemorative Mega Millions tickets for the $640 million jackpot.  Plaintiff sought $487,324 in damages.

The Court quickly applied the idea/expression dichotomy and held that: “Since the idea of placing a commemorative image on a lottery ticket is not a protected element of GIRLP, and since Gaines has failed to identify any other protected elements of GIRLP upon which the District infringed, Gaines has failed to state a claim, and this action must be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).”  Plaintiff, who was proceeding pro se, had simply failed to identify and allege any protectable expression, despite claiming his “business plan” and “idea” was used by the Lottery Board.

Having determined that no protectable copyright existed, the Court also held that there was no confusing similarity between Plaintiff’s claimed “GIRLP illustrations” and those on the Mega Millions ticket.  Thus, the copyright infringement lawsuit was dismissed.

I am not sure if I have ever purchased a lottery ticket, Mega Millions or otherwise, although I do indulge in a scratch’em or two from time to time.  I may have to now, however, knowing that their are copyright lessons to be learned as I throw away $1 dollar at a time, along with any dream of lotto winning riches.

Gaines v. Dist. of Columbia, CIV.A. 12-1481 BJR, 2013 WL 4446791 (D.D.C. Aug. 21, 2013).


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