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Want a primer on key copyright concepts? Here's a case for you.

The following story centrally follows the key outline of a current federal case highlighting copyright issues. Although that case is obviously important to the litigants, we pass along some key details more for their topical nature and their relevance for spotlighting some central copyright concepts.

Several years ago, a young girl entered a sweepstakes contest involving a T-shirt design at her school. As a prerequisite to entering, her mother signed a waiver that gave all copyrights in submissions to the sponsoring company.

She won. Her simple design, as noted in a recent media article discussing the case and copyright law, is now "featured in an extensive catalogue of clothing and accessories." Given the signed waiver, she received a $100 gift card and five T-shirts.

That outcome didn’t sit well with mom, who brought the federal case.

The company -- now another global entity, pursuant to various sales and stock exchanges -- cited the waiver in its defense.

The judge wasn't impressed, stating that the release did not legally bind the daughter, a minor. The court declined to rescind the contract, though, since that would have unfairly advantaged the girl (she would own a copyright to a now valuable commercial mark, which would have put her in a far better position than she was in when she entered the contest).

Instead, the court late last month called for a hearing to evaluate the gap in sophistication and bargaining positions between the young girl and the commercial entity she first dealt with. The focal point: consideration of whether the sheer disparity in bargaining power made the waiver agreement unconscionable.

And the judge noted a final point in response to a defense argument, namely this: Although the design was admittedly quite simple, that fact alone would never bar the plaintiff's complaint. The court cited the "extremely low" bar for the originality required to obtain copyright protection.

The case was still ongoing as of the date of the above-cited media overview.

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