There are dozens of pages like this one. Some have more than one section; others are devoted to a single subject. Every section (whether it is the only one on a page or not) has headers with information beneath them. The headers bear these titles:
Where to Look in the Law
Copyright Office Publications for Laymen
What the Supreme Court Ruled
What the Lower Courts Ruled
About This Page
Not every section has every header. In some cases the reason for omission is obvious—There can’t be a header for “What the Supreme Court Ruled” if the Supreme Court never issued a verdict on a particular narrow subject. In other cases, the reason is that the information beneath the header would duplicate the material elsewhere on the page. It often happens that narrowly-different aspects of the same subject are divided into several sections on one page. When this occurs, the section at the top of the page is the “master” listing, and the ones beneath it offer mere variations on the subject. Given that the statutes affecting the legality are likely the same for each section, the duplication is left out. Where you find yourself wondering which laws govern a particular subject and don’t find a “Where to Look in the Law” header, be sure to look near the top of the page.
Here are some recommendations on reading the contents within each information block.
This block gives the statute numbers and subsections for the statutes governing this subject in United States law. Unless otherwise indicated, the statutes are in Title 17 of the United States Code (often designated in other resources as “17 U.S.C.”). Prior to codification in 1947, this “title” was simply the Copyright Act. In this web site, in references after 1947, the terms “Title 17” and “the Copyright Act” are used interchangeably.
Where the designation “CFR:” is given prior to a citation, the section cited is from the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 37.
Virtually every incarnation of the Copyright Act from 1909 to 2006 can be accessed from the law section of this web site. Please see the introductory page and the technical-notes page of that wing for remarks on the few statutes that are of no further import and thus excluded. To read full text from the Code of Federal Regulations, visit the CFR page within the Government Printing Office site at https://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html (select Title 37 from the drop-down menu) or the Copyright Office web site.
Where an item in the law is short, or where a particular aspect is addressed briefly within a longer section, it may be quoted beneath the citations. Quotations were selected for inclusion where they were not only brief, but also vital, generally-unknown or frequently ignored, or have been subject to much public discussion. The lack of a quotation in any particular section of this part of the web site should not be regarded as proof that the editor belittles or misunderstands the subject. The reason for absence of any quotation is likely something else.
The United States Copyright Office has long prepared circulars and information sheets which the Office has sent to members of the public who requested them. In the internet age, the Copyright Office has put these online. Although these publications do not have the imprimatur nor authority of formal law, they are unquestionably easier to read. For the layperson, they are an excellent way to learn about particular applications of the law and to discover whether the reader wants to learn more. No user of this web site or of the Copyright Office circulars and information sheets should take a legally-fraught action without first discovering what the law actually reads.
The Copyright Office circulars and information fact-sheets can be accessed on the Copyright Office page for Information Circulars and Factsheets. For the reader’s convenience, I often give merely the circular number in the citations beneath my header. This should be sufficient for letting the web user obtain the right circular at the Copyright Office web site. Where a relevant passage is vital or likely to be missed within a long and detailed publication, I provide quotations beneath the citations.
Please see the section entitled “Copyright Office publications are not definitive” (launch this) for further information.
The most binding decisions issued by any courts in the United States are those of the United States Supreme Court. These decisions are listed first. (For convenience, I use the colloquial term “Supreme Court” in referring to the Supreme Court of the United States. Cases decided by the Supreme Court of a state are grouped with lower court rulings. Readers who might otherwise be confused should take note that when I mean the Supreme Court of a particular state, I say so explicitly.) Where the Court issued more than one ruling on a given subject, they are summarized here in chronological order.
The summaries of some Supreme Court cases give excerpts from or comments about the dissenting opinion(s). Any such opinion will be labeled as such and is not legally binding. However, because such a decision is held by one of the most-esteemed of legal minds and because such an opinion might on a future court be in the majority, interested persons might want to heed the bases on which such opinions are founded. The editor of this web site chose the dissenting opinions to be included on the basis of interest, applicability to established law, the size of the minority, and the prospect of the opinion becoming law.
Decisions of the district courts, appeals courts, and any others, are discussed under this header. This header reads “What the Courts Ruled” (without “Lower” in the wording) where there is no Supreme Court decision.
Further information about the abbreviations used immediately above the verdict summaries, and information about policies that I followed in preparing the summaries, appears just a little below.
This header is placed atop a variety of pieces of brief information. The principal denominator of these information blocks is that the items within them provide additional documentation about the policies of the Copyright Office or of the intentions of Congress in passing the relevant law. In some cases, the passages given provide further ramifications of a particular law beyond those recounted in the court verdicts summarized.
About the Case Citations
Beneath the name of the case of every case (except Supreme Court cases) is a line with information on the court that tried the case; when it decided the verdict; where the decision was published; and, where relevant, whether and to what extent the verdict was overturned, modified, appealed, or otherwise impacted.
Where there are two or more lines with this kind of information, it’s because the case was tried in two or more courts. The usual sequence is for such a case to begin in district court, then go to appeals court. In a few instances reported on this site, a case goes to the Supreme Court. (For these, the listing will appear beneath “What the Supreme Court Ruled” even though there are lower-court verdicts cited in the same one-inch column of the computer screen. The abbreviations in such instances are the same as those that appear beneath the “What the Lower Courts Ruled” headers.)
If you’ve never seen abbreviations for courts and suddenly find that you need to know how to read them, you’re in for a slew of learning. Prepare for a crash course!
Some abbreviations for courts:
“D.C.” at the beginning of a court designation means “District Court.” “D.C.” may follow an abbreviation for the locale—or precede it! Thus, “D.C.N.Y.” is the District Court of New York, yet “U.S.D.C.,S.D.N.Y.” is the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. “D.C.Mass.” is the District Court for Massachusetts, “D.C.Cal.” is the District Court for California, and “USDC,Colo.” is United States District Court for Colorado.
The same type of abbreviations apply to courts other than district courts. “NY Sup.Crt, N.Y.Co.” is New York Superior Court, New York County.
Inconsistencies in punctuation reflect the exact character-by-character citation in source documents. I did not seek to unify these.
The position of a particular abbreviation is vital. “D.C.” (like “USDC”) indicates a district court when used at the beginning of a court citation, yet “D.C.” means “District of Columbia” when it appears after the level of court has already been supplied.
“CCA” means “Circuit Court of Appeals” yet “USCA” means the same thing. The fact that a court is an appeals court is followed by the location of that court. In the oldest listings, these are common geographic abbreviations familiar to anyone who has studied a map of the United States highlighting the state boundaries. In more recent years, the particular Courts of Appeal have been designated by a number representing a particular portion of the nation.
“USCA, 9th Cir.” means the United States Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit. However, just “9th Cir.” means the same thing, merely leaving out the redundant court level.
Many courts at the district level are listed with abbreviations indicating a location within a general geographic area. These indicators use the letters “N,” “S,” “E,” “W” and “C” to designate Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western and Central districts or divisions. The district comes first among these two.
Thus, where we have “USDC for S.D. Alabama, S.D.”:
The preceding practices follow standards set by law specialists. The next item on the court/publication information is the date of the decision. I have broken from standard citation format by including the month and date (as numbers) alongside the year of the decision. In trials where the appeal occurred the same year, or where a similar case was decided the same year, or where the trial date helps determine the period of availability of the work, this information can be valuable. In a small number of the cases (the very first I summarized and some from the early 19th century where source materials don’t provide the exact date), I do not have the month and day.
|The date appears within parentheses. Although this too is not standard citation format, it coincides with how dates appear following movie titles (and the titles of other forms of works) in general-reading non-fiction, so what the numbers represent should be unmistakable.|
Next on the court/publication information lines are the publication citations.
Within publication info:
“2d.” at end of any “Reporter” title indicates Second Series; “3d.” indicates Third Series.
Often a case is published in more than one legal-resource periodical. Where this is so, all are given, separated by commas. Where one publication ends with two numbers separated by a comma, the first number indicates where the reprint of that particular case starts; the second number indicates where a particular passage starts within that case. Such tandem-number listings only occur in the citations that appear following a particular quotation or a point. Tandem-number citations don’t appear on the court/publication information lines that apply to a whole decision.
Where the court/publication information line begins with a publication citation rather than the court , that citation will have “U.S.” between the pair of numbers. Under these conditions, the fact of “U.S.” in the middle tells you that it is a case decided by the United States Supreme Court. The combination of numbers and letters in these cases do double duty: it tells you that it is a Supreme Court case and also gives you the first (and often only) publication citation without your having to look to the right of the decision date.
|“CCH” precedes numbers on some of the most recent cases. “CCH” stands for Commerce Clearing House, and the citation is for their publication Copyright Law Decisions, published in book form at intervals of about once every two years. Page numbering continues from volume to volume, so the page numbers have reached five digits.|
|Readers wanting to know more about standard citation format should consult a source dedicated to reporting on far more cases than the few hundred summarized here. Some good sources are on the internet. Good overviews of this are given in these external sites: the Wikipedia entry for case citation and the Cornell Law School page “How to Cite Judicial Opinions.” The Library of Congress has a section of a page about this at https://www.loc.gov/rr/law/judicial.html#citations.|
There are accepted standards among law professionals as to how to cite a publication and indicate a court. Standards for naming a case are not so established; among respected resources, the same case may be referred to in two or more ways. I was left to formulate my own policies. In giving the names of the cases, I have endeavored to be informative without burdening the reader with names that would be meaningless. Unless a case has just a single-name plaintiff and single-name defendant (e.g, “Apple Computer vs Microsoft Corp.”), court records and citations are likely to refer to the case with more than one name. (Even on the above example, “Corp.” could be spelled out as “Corporation” or omitted altogether.) One case is referred variously in the judicial publications as Dellar et al v. Samuel Goldwyn et al and Dellar v. Goldwyn. In reading the decision, I find that the text begins by stating that one set of attorneys represented defendants Goldwyn as a person, Goldwyn as a company, and United Artists, and that another attorney represents defendant Eddie Cantor. A reading of the case discloses that these defendants were material to the case. Given that these names are recognized as significant artists and production companies by fans of classic Hollywood film, they are of interest to the movie fans I expect to access this site. Thus, I opted to headline my summary of this case with Mort Eisman, Clara Dellar and Robert Louis Shayon vs Samuel Goldwyn, Inc., Samuel Goldwyn, United Artists and Eddie Cantor. (In the Dellar v. Goldwyn dispute, it does’t help that some of the parties dropped out of the litigation after there had been two trials and a third was forthcoming. The third trial truly was Dellar v. Goldwyn — without Eisman, Shayon, etc. — yet even the first trial is sometimes misleadingly referred to by the shorter name.)
Where I have given, within the name of a case, information that never would have been part of the title on court documents, I have indicated my doing so by means of brackets. For instance, on the case referred to be some as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer et al v. Grokster, I have as summary header Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc, et al. [includes numerous other movie studios and recording companies] vs Grokster, Ltd. and Streamcast Networks, Inc The details within the brackets don’t belong in a formal name, yet they are illustrative for the reader. I believe that the reader will be well-informed by such shorthand references and also better-served by not having to wade through the cumbersome alternative of naming all those other major studios and recording companies. (Not surprisingly, in this case they are the names which most commonly come to mind upon hearing the terms “major studios” and “recording companies”.)
Where I have kept “et al” without elaborating within brackets, most often the names not given here are of little import or recognition. Are readers in 2007 really interested in seeing first-up the identity of a small-town reporter for a weekly newspaper whose only connection to copyright litigation is that some of his writing turned up in an advertisement without his newspaper’s authorization? Occasionally, “et al” remained “et al” despite my efforts to learn the identities. On one appetizing 1938 case, I was frustrated in my failed attempts to learn the unlisted names.
Print publications and court opinions have legitimate reason to trim the names of cases. A name is difficult to understand if it is too long. If the name of the first-listed defendant is buried within a case title, the reader will have to exert attention just trying to find that first defendant name, which can be vital for recognizing whether this is a case that the reader has learned about before. Web browser formatting makes comprehension easier. I insert a formatted vs between the names of plaintiff(s) and defendant(s), so it is always a cinch to see where one half of the listing ends and the next begins.
You might wonder whether I screwed up the order of plaintiff and defendant. Read on:
Sometimes it may seem from the name of the case that the party doing the suing is the party that should be the defendant, and that the person defending should be the plaintiff. When this impression strikes you, look at the abbreviation for the court and see if it is an appeals court. If so, realize that this is an appeals case and that the party doing the suing had likely lost in lower court and is now trying to reverse the decision. This is why the plaintiff and defendant names seem to be in reverse, although they are not, at least not in the context of the particular case being summarized. (To be technical, the parties in appeals court are now referred to not as plaintiff and defendant but as appellant and appellee.)
About the Summaries of the Court Decisions
Within descriptions of cases, quotations are the words of the court’s decision unless specific wording or context indicates otherwise. Even where the passage discusses the position or complaint of a plaintiff or defendant, it should be assumed that the wording is the judge’s (unless specifically stated to be the party’s or the context supports such a reading). (Quotes within quotes can be assumed to be the words of the person under discussion, where context permits this reading.)
The summaries on this site were written with respect to the original opinions issued by the courts. Editing within quotations has been performed using standard academic-writing policy (except as stated below). Where a sentence has been excerpted so that the quotation begins mid-way in, but appears herein at the beginning of a sentence, a word that was lowercase in the original is shown here with the first letter within brackets so that it’s clear that the original did not have capitalization.
There are rare exceptions to this:
Some decisions capitalized the noun which referred to the object of the case, e.g., “Book” instead of “book”, “Doll” in place of “doll”. For these cases (of which there were few), I have lowercased the distracting capitalization without indicating my minor alteration. Trivial as these changes were, they rendered the sentences more readable than would result from “[b]ook” or “[d]oll.” Other than this form of change, capitalization was respected, and where changes were made (such as when my excerpt begins a sentence from inside a sentence of the original), I do write “[T]here” to establish that the original had read “there” at this point.
Here, I chose readability above strict quotation.
About the Excerpting
None of the court decisions summarized on this web site are reproduced in full. A few of the original decisions are so short that the summaries come very close to being the complete original. Condensing of the originals was required if this site is to achieve its objective of offering the visitor a concise guide to determining what actions are and are not infringements, information that preferably would be comprehended in a single visit by the reader.
In the excerpts, ellipses (three dots in a row) indicate where material has been cut. Where the original decision itself had ellipses (usually because it itself quoted from an earlier decision, from a statute, from the complaint, or from trial testimony), I indicate my cuts with ellipses within brackets (like so: “[…]”) to offset my cuts from those of the court. Where there might be a question of the conditions under which material was excised, I provide a remark of clarification inside parentheses after the quotation.
Just as there is an exception of indicating changes in upper- and lower-casing, so too there is an exception to using ellipses:
The flow of an argument within court decisions are often interrupted mid-sentence by citations to earlier cases or to statutes. I removed these in all but a few cases. Citations are fine for legal professionals who are used to them (and to the legal principles), but are nuisances to laypersons for whom even basic legal principles may be new. These cuts were made to improve readability, and — guided as I was by a desire to achieve readability — I could not shoe-horn into these sentence those annoying three dots that likely will stop the reader’s mind while he studies the sentence structure wondering just what kinds of clauses and sub-points might have been removed. Nothing of consequence to the argument was removed in cutting citations, so any ellipses inserted here could have been misleading. Ellipses, as far as I’m concerned, have to signify the removal of content that has some place in the content of the sentence. There’s not a high bar here. To show just how stringent I was about using brackets where I made even a minor change, I use brackets where I merely substitute one way of referring to a party where the court decision used another term. For example, where the decision used the word “appellant” or “plaintiff”, I use brackets where I struck “appellant” or “plaintiff” and substitute the actual name of the appellant or plaintiff. (Example: “[Welles] never granted” appears in place of “appellant never granted” in my summaries of Orson Welles v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. et al.) This change was not substantive but did alter the content of the original, so I indicate the alteration.
(As strongly as I believe that I acted as a responsible editor in not substituting ellipses where citations have been removed, I did not formulate this policy immediately. Some summaries were written before this policy was adopted. Thus, there may be some instances where ellipses appear although nothing was omitted but citations.)
Some changes in formatting is permissible owing to the difference in typography offered by HTML, just as such changes have routinely been made for decades when court decisions have been reprinted in legal journals and general-interest books. I follow standard journalism precedent. Titles which in the court decisions are given between quote marks but which in standard journalistic practice are properly put in italics, are here given in italics.
(What it comes down to in the above is: Court decisions years ago were prepared on manual typewriters. Courts did not have the option of italicizing. Although underscoring was available to court typists, and although underscoring has also often been transformed into italics, I believe that the reader is better served by seeing titles formatted here in the same way that the reader is used to seeing titles within prose in newspapers, magazines and books.
Other than as indicated above (removing the capitalization of non-proper nouns, italics in place of quotation marks, removal of citations without recourse to ellipses, converting underscored text in typewritten documents to italics, removal of numbering for successive arguments) and other than standard typographic changes (such as converting double-quote marks to single-quote marks and vice versa where these appear as quotations within quotations; converting double short dashes to single long dashes), text between quotation marks is verbatim. This policy turns out to expose inconsistencies from court to court.
In reading quotations from the district court decision in Roy Export v. CBS, the reader will see that this lower court, in referring to the defendant in the possessive form, used the modern corrupt punctuation: “CBS’”. When the case went to appeals court, this higher court — composed of judges selected to rise from the larger ranks of the lower courts — revealed itself to have a membership which used the tried-and-true, unambiguous rule for singular possessive: “CBS’s”. The reader was not left to wonder whether “CBS” was supposed to be taken for a plural while it was not. Parents, let this be a lesson: If you don’t teach your children proper punctuation, they won’t rise beyond district court judge. (Bite my tongue! Does it bother anyone else that they even rise this far?)
About Case Selection
In selecting cases to be summarized, I sought a range of dates, thus letting the reader see how application of a law has been steady over the course of a century or more—or exposing how interpretation of the law has changed (“evolved”) over time. Readers are cautioned to note which circuit ruled in a particular way, as each circuit may interpret the law differently than the others. Until the Supreme Court decides the application of a particular law, the lower courts are without national precedent.
Other decisive factors in selecting cases were the frequency with which a case is cited or quoted, its uniqueness, the fame of its litigants, whether it was affirmed by higher courts, and sometimes just whether it could be summarized briefly.
When a case reached the ideal for inclusion, the case selected for this site has a verdict that hinged on a single aspect of the case. The hope I always had was that the cases within a given section thoroughly substantiated a particular interpretation of the law, without the reader having to question whether another aspect of the case had determined the verdict or had deserved to do so. It was not always possible to find such cases.
An example of a less-than-ideal verdict: One case decided on three strong points was Alice T. Yardley v. Houghton Mifflin Co., Inc. The Court seems to have been equally impressed that (1) a particular copyright renewal was not valid because the renewal claimant had not inherited title to the property of her deceased brother, that (2) the copyright being renewed was for a work on which the rights were owned by the client who commissioned the work rather than anyone related to the plaintiff, and finally that (3) the renewal application was filed prior to the eligibility period. All three arguments seem valid, given the facts in the case. (See the summaries to judge for yourself.) However, let’s suppose that only one of these three arguments had made a strong case for the verdict reached by the court. With one unassailable “pillar” of argumentation strong enough to bear the weight of the “roof” of its conclusion, the losing party in the lawsuit would not appeal. It could happen that the court could have constructed one of the other (non-additive) parts of its decision so speciously that this (separate) part of the full decision is no more valid than a claim that the moon is made of green cheese. Nonetheless, where the strength of a valid, concurring argument prevents the case being appealed, there won’t be a formal, court-filed document challenging the decision.
Consequently, readers of this web site are urged to seek out the other determinants of a verdict, not merely the aspect which brought the reader to the summary. (Parenthetical remarks throughout the “Citations and Cases” section of this web site report such additional determinants.) This site endeavors to do what similar resources have failed to do in the many offerings of this kind in the past: it doesn’t merely offer isolated passages of reasoning from a court decision with the implication that these alone can guide the reader to a secure opinion on the aspect under review. Some resources report stray statements without even mentioning that the opinions recounted are presented as mere hypotheticals in the original decision and that the passing example wasn’t even a factor in the verdict which impacted the litigants.
Some free advice: for your own security, if you’re going to reproduce works originated by others, please study and comprehend the statutes, precedents, valid interpretations, and court decisions that have come to establish the boundaries as to what activities are lawful.
|Do you want to read the full cases?
Serious students (and people who just want to try proving me a deceitful editor) can find the full text of most cases online. All Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1893 can be read for free at Findlaw’s site for Supreme Court opinions. Supreme Court decisions from prior to that date (as well as all decisions thereafter) are available for free at LexisOne, although the user must register and then click “Find Cases for Free.”
For Supreme Court decisions from recent years, you can get them from the source: the Supreme Court web site. These decisions are more attractively formatted than those available elsewhere. (A note about Supreme Court decisions: where the nation’s highest Court merely affirmed a lower-court decision without issuing a decision of its own, there won’t be any useful information in the online file letting the reader know the reasoning accepted by the Court. On this web site, the only case so affected is that for Jack Benny v. Loew’s. I confirmed that the Supreme Court did not issue an opinion by examining the binder on this case at the Law Library of the Library of Congress. Had there been reasoning put into writing by the Court, it would have been in the binder assembled by the Supreme Court that is now maintained at the Library.)
District Court and Appeals Court verdicts decided during the internet age are sometimes on web sites of those courts. Each court has different policy. Older decisions for these courts are harder to find for free; however, the same Findlaw and LexisOne sites that offers Supreme Court decisions for free will sell you downloadable texts of lower-court decisions.
Print publications containing court decisions are available in large libraries. Read the above section on publication citations for more information about print publications.
Some web sites contain decisions on limited aspects of the law. Bitlaw is devoted to law pertaining to computer-industry concerns. Visit them at https://www.bitlaw.com/source/cases/copyright/.
The web site of oyez.org offers audio recordings of — no, not just the Supreme Court justices reading their verdicts — but the actual arguments made before the bench of the Supreme Court. Of interest to those studying copyright law is the Court’s decision MGM Studios v. Grokster. Links: https://www.oyez.org/oyez/resource/case/1809/ and https://www.oyez/cases/case?case=2000-2009/2004/2004_04_480. Also available is the decision in Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. Transcripts of the arguments are also available at Oyez.
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This portion of the Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site
© 2007 David P. Hayes