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List of copyright case law in the US


List of cases that deal with issues of concern to copyright in various jurisdictions. if no court name is given, according to convention, the case is from the Supreme Court of the United States.


Case name Reporter Court/Year Findings
Wheaton v. Peters 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 1834 There is no such thing as common law copyright and one must observe the formalities to secure a copyright.
Baker v. Selden 101 U.S. 99 1879 Idea-expression divide.
Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony 111 U.S. 53 1884 Extended copyright protection to photography.
White-Smith Music Publishing Company v. Apollo Company 209 U.S. 1 1908 Reproduction of the sounds of musical instruments playing music for which copyright granted not a violation of the copyright.
Bobbs-Merrill Co v. Straus 210 U.S. 339 1908 No license to use copyrighted material. License cannot extend holder's rights beyond statute defined by Congress.
Bauer & Cie. v. O'Donnell 229 U.S. 1 1913 Differences between patent and copyright defined also prohibits a license from extending holder's rights beyond statute.
Macmillan Co. v. King 223 F. 862 D.Mass. 1914 Limits of fair use with respect to an educational context and to summaries.
Nutt v. National Institute Inc. 31 F.2d 236 2d Cir. 1929 It is not the subject that is protected by copyright. It is the treatment of a subject that is protected.
Nichols v. Universal Pictures Co. 45 F.2d 119 2d Cir. 1930 No copyright for "stock characters".
Cain v. Universal Pictures 47 F.Supp. 1013 S. Dist. Calif1942 Scènes à faire
Shostakovich v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 196 Misc. 67, 80 N.Y.S.2d 575 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1948), aff'd 275 A.D. 692, 87 N.Y.S.2d 430 (1949) 1948–9 No moral rights in public domain works.
Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, Inc. 191 F.2d 99 2d. Cir. 1951 Variations of works in the public domain can be copyrighted if the new "author" contributed something more than a "merely trivial" variation, but no large measure of novelty is necessary.
National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications 191 F.2d 594 (1951), clarified 198 F.2d 927 (1952) 2d Cir. 1951–2 Derivative works; an author does not forfeit his copyright to a piece of intellectual property if his work is contracted to another who fails to properly copyright works which incorporate the original property (obsoleted by Copyright Act of 1976).
F. W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, Inc. 344 U.S. 227 1952 Provided wide latitude to judges when determining legal remedies based on the facts of the case.
Mazer v. Stein 347 U.S. 201 1954 Extended copyright protection to applied art.
Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc. 329 F. 2d 541 2d. Cir. 1964 Parody.
Fortnightly Corp. v. United Artists 392 U.S. 390 1968 Television broadcasters "perform" copyrighted works. Viewers do not perform. CATV was more like a viewer than a broadcaster and did not infringe when rebroadcasting copyrighted works.
Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card Co 429 F.2d 1106 9th Cir. 1970 Copyright may be infringed when total concept and feel is the same
Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States 487 F.2d 1345 Ct. Cl. 1973 Libraries' photocopying for research was fair use.
Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken 422 U.S. 151 1975 Playing a radio broadcast of a copyrighted work at a business was not copyright infringement Radio reception does not constitute a "performance" of copyrighted material.

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