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Copyright for Students: US Supreme Court Cases

Basic information about U.S.C. Title 17 Copyright Law particularly as it relates to higher education.

Georgia State University Copyright Lawsuit

Supreme Court Copyright Cases

List of United States Supreme Court copyright case law

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

This is an incomplete list of Supreme Court of the United States cases in the area of copyright law.





Wheaton v. Peters

33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591


There is no such thing as common law copyright and one must observe the formalities to secure a copyright.

Trade-Mark Cases

100 U.S. 82


Copyright Clause does not give Congress the power to regulate trademarks

Baker v. Selden

101 U.S. 99


Idea-expression divide; differences between copyright & patent law

Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony

111 U.S. 53


Extended copyright protection to photography.

Banks v. Manchester

128 U.S. 244


No copyright in state Supreme Court opinions.

Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Company

188 U.S. 239


Copyright protection of illustrations made for advertisements

United Dictionary Co. v. G. & C. Merriam Co.

208 U.S. 260


White-Smith Music Publishing Company v. Apollo Company

209 U.S. 1


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


No license to use copyrighted material. License cannot extend holder's rights beyond statute defined by Congress.

Kalem Co. v. Harper Bros.

222 U.S. 55


Ferris v. Frohman

223 U.S. 424


Bauer & Cie. v. O'Donnell

229 U.S. 1


Differences between patent and copyright defined also prohibits a license from extending rights holders' rights beyond statute. Rights of copyright holder regarding “use” of copyrighted works.

Herbert v. Shanley Co.

242 U.S. 591


Hotels & restaurants that perform music must compensate composers, even if the venue is not separately charging patrons to hear the music.

International News Service v. Associated Press

248 U.S. 215


Buck v. Jewell-LaSalle Realty Co.

283 U.S. 191


A hotel operator which provided headphones connected to a centrally controlled radio receiver was guilty of copyright infringement, because "reception of a radio broadcast and its translation into audible sound is not a mere audition of the original program. It is essentially a reproduction." NB: Gene Buck, plaintiff, was president of ASCAP.

Fox Film Corp v. Doyal

286 U.S. 123


States may tax copyright royalties, as they can patent royalties, because even though copyrights & patents are granted by the federal government, they are still private property subject to taxation.

Washingtonian Pub. Co. v. Pearson

306 U.S. 30


The 1909 Act's deposit requirement did not require immediate deposit, or deposit before infringement occurs, in order to bring a suit for infringement

Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp.

309 U.S. 390


In the case of an unauthorized adaptation, court may elect to award only a portion of an infringer's profits to the plaintiff.

Fred Fisher Music Co. v. M. Witmark & Sons

318 U.S. 643


United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.

334 U.S. 131


F. W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, Inc.

344 U.S. 227


Court may grant statutory damages, even when infringer proves its gross profits were less than the statutory award. Judges granted wide latitude when determining legal remedies based on the facts of the case.

Mazer v. Stein

347 U.S. 201


Extended copyright protection to functional art.

De Sylva v. Ballentine

351 U.S. 570


Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Loew's, Inc.

356 U.S. 43


aff'd 4-4 sub. nom., Benny v. Loew's, 239 F.2d 532 (9th Cir. 1956)

Fortnightly Corp. v. United Artists Television, Inc.

392 U.S. 390


Receiving a television broadcast (of a licensed work) does not constitute a "performance"

Goldstein v. California

412 U.S. 546


Teleprompter Corp. v. Columbia Broadcasting

415 U.S. 394


Receiving a television broadcast does not constitute a "performance"

Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken

422 U.S. 151


Receiving a radio broadcast of a licensed work does not constitute a "performance". This effectively overruled Buck v. Jewel-LaSalle Realty Co. (1931)

Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States

420 U.S. 376


aff'd by an equally divided court, 420 U.S. 376, 95 S.Ct. 1344 (1975)

Broadcast Music v. Columbia Broadcasting System

441 U.S. 1


Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.

464 U.S. 417


The Betamax Case

Mills Music, Inc. v. Snyder

469 U.S. 153


Assignment of royalties under the Copyright Act

Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises

471 U.S. 539


The interest served by republication of a public figure's account of an event is not sufficient to permit non-transformative Fair use.

Dowling. v. United States

473 U.S. 207


Copyright infringement is not theft, conversion, or fraud; illegally made copies are not stolen goods.

Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid

490 U.S. 730


Works for hire.

Stewart v. Abend

495 U.S. 207


Rights of the successor of a copyright interest

Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.

499 U.S. 340


Affirmed the need for a minimal amount of creativity before a work is copyrightable. "Sweat of the brow" alone is not sufficient to bestow copyright.

Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc.

510 U.S. 517


Attorney's fees in copyright litigation may be awarded to successful defendants, as well as to successful plaintiffs

Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.

510 U.S. 569


Commercial parody can be fair use.

Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Borland Int'l, Inc.

516 U.S. 233


Scope of software copyrights.

Quality King Distributors, Inc. v. L'anza Research Int'l, Inc.

523 U.S. 135


First-sale doctrine applies to reimported goods

Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc.

523 U.S. 340


Seventh Amendment right to jury trial in a copyright infringement case

New York Times Co. v. Tasini

533 U.S. 483


Freelance journalists did not grant electronic republication rights for collective work.

Eldred v. Ashcroft

537 U.S. 186


Challenge to Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998; held Congress may retroactively extend the duration of works still under copyright, as long as the extension is limited.

Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

539 U.S. 23


Trademark cannot preserve rights to a public domain work.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.

545 U.S. 913


Distributors of peer-to-peer file-sharing software can be liable for copyright infringement if there are "affirmative Steps taken to foster infringement".

Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick

559 U.S. 154


Settlement of copyright infringement claims relating to an electronic database

Omega S.A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

562 U.S. ___


aff'g 541 F.3d 982 (9th Cir. 2008)

Golan v. Holder

565 U.S. 132 S. Ct. 873


Challenge to Uruguay Round Agreements Act; held Constitution gives broad discretion to Congress to decide how best to promote the "progress of science and the useful arts", including restoring copyright in public domain works.

Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

568 U.S. 133 S. Ct. 1351


The first-sale doctrine applies to copyrighted works made lawfully overseas.

Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

572 U.S. ____


The laches defense is not available in copyright infringement cases.

American Broadcasting Cos., Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.

573 U.S. ____


Aereo's subscription service allowed subscribers to view live and time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on Internet-connected devices; the live viewing was deemed to be an infringing "retransmission" within the meaning of the public performance right.

Further research:

Raza Panjwani, "Supreme Court Copyright Index" (last visited May 26, 2014) - A website of Supreme Court copyright jurisprudence, organized by justice

U.S. Supreme Court Copyright Cases