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New Jersey graphic artist sues brewer for copyright infringement

The long, warm days of summer may be nearing an end, but New Jersey's beer aficionados know that another comfort lies just around the corner. With autumn comes a wide variety of new seasonal brews, and beer makers are eager to promote them as they hit liquor stores.

But there's at least one person who isn't happy about the promotion of one of the East Coast's most anticipated seasonal beers. The freelance graphic designer from Voorhees, New Jersey, continues to fight his former employer, D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc., in a copyright infringement lawsuit that claims he was never paid for a design the brewer now uses on the label of its Oktoberfest beer.

The design that adorns the beer's labels, packaging and beer tap handles is not identical to the one the artist created in 2010, but so closely resembles it that he deserves the credit, his lawsuit claims. The only differences are a slight curve in the word "Oktoberfest" and the words "seasonal beer" underneath it on the new label. All other elements are the same, including the eagle logo and an old English font for the variety's name.

The designer says that for more than a year the company has refused to pay him the $80,000 it owes for his work. In addition to that fee, his lawsuit seeks $150,000 in damages and a court order preventing the brewer from continued use of the design. If he wins his case, he would also be eligible for some portion of the company's profit off the beer under federal copyright law.

The designer has a long history with the central Pennsylvania brewer, which hired him in 1990 to help make over an outdated image. Since then the company has become the largest American-owned beer maker and expanded its distribution across the nation. But two years ago, Yuengling hired in-house graphic designers, ending his work with the company. It wasn't until he saw the new Oktoberfest label on a beer website that he realized Yuengling was still using his using his designs, he said.

How close can a design be to another without being considered copyright infringement? In this case, that will be up to a U.S. district court to decide. But anyone who suspects their intellectual property has been used without permission can learn more about their rights by consulting with a commercial litigation attorney.

Source: The Times-Tribune, "Artist sues Yuengling in Oktoberfest label dispute," Peter Hall, Aug. 2, 2012

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