De minimis

De minimis non curat lex

The law does not concern itself with trifles

“In some cases, the amount of material copied is so small (or ‘de minimis’) that the court permits it without even conducting a fair use analysis.”
Stanford University, Copyright & Fair Use

“The legal maxim ‘de minimis non curat lex’ insulates from liability those who cause insignificant violations of the rights of others.”
Ringgold v. BET, 1997

If a copyright infringement is very minor, a court may dismiss for being too small, “de minimis.”

“a principle of law, that even if a technical violation of a law appears to exist according to the letter of the law, if the effect is too small to be of consequence, the violation of the law will not be considered as a sufficient cause of action, whether in civil or criminal proceedings.”
The Free Dictionary

“The legal maxim ‘de minimis non curat lex’ (sometimes rendered, ‘the law does not concern itself with trifles’) insulates from liability those who cause insignificant violations of the rights of others.”
Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., 126 F. 3d 70 - Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 1997 at 77

See:

  • American Geophysical Union v. Texaco, Inc.
  • Amsinck v. Columbia Pictures Industries
  • Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television

“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
— Benjamin Franklin

Long Definition

So, would you like a non-minimis explanation of de minimis? Then try this one, from Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., 126 F. 3d 70 - Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 1997:

The legal maxim “de minimis non curat lex” (sometimes rendered, “the law does not concern itself with trifles”) insulates from liability those who cause insignificant violations of the rights of others. In the context of copyright law, the concept of de minimis has significance in three respects, which, though related, should be considered separately.

First, de minimis in the copyright context can mean what it means in most legal contexts: a technical violation of a right so trivial that the law will not impose legal consequences. Understandably, fact patterns are rarely litigated illustrating this use of the phrase, for, as Judge Leval has observed, such circumstances would usually involve “

“uestions that never need to be answered.” Pierre N. Leval, Nimmer Lecture: Fair Use Rescued, 44 U.C.L.A. L.Rev. 1449, 1457 (1997). He offers the example of a New Yorker cartoon put up on a refrigerator. [2] In Knickerbocker Toy Co. v. Azrak-Hamway International, Inc., 668 F.2d 699, 703 (2d Cir.1982), we relied on the de minimis doctrine to reject a toy manufacturer’s claim based on a photograph of its product in an office copy of a display card of a competitor’s product where the display card was never used. See id. at 702.


Laureyssens v. Idea Group, Inc., 964 F.2d 131, 139-40 (2d Cir.1992); Nimmer § 13.01[B]. Professor Latman helpfully suggested that when “substantial similarity” is used to mean the threshold for copying as a factual matter, the better term is “probative similarity,” and that “substantial similarity” should mean only the threshold for actionable copying. See Alan Latman, “Probative Similarity” as Proof of Copying: Toward Dispelling Some Myths in Copyright Infringement, 90 Colum. L.Rev. 1187, 1204 (1990). The Nimmer treatise endorses and has implemented the Latman taxonomy, see Nimmer § 13.01[B], at 13-12, & n. 31.1, as has this Court, see Laureyssens, 964 F.2d at 140.

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