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As between an approach that a license of rights in a given medium (e.g., motion picture rights) includes only such uses as fall within the unambiguous core meaning of the term (e.g., exhibition of motion picture film in motion picture theaters) and exclude any uses which lie within the ambiguous penumbra (e.g., exhibition of motion picture film on television) and another whereby the licensee may properly pursue any uses which may reasonably be said to fall within the medium as described in the license, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit prefers the latter. If the words are broad enough to cover the new use, it seems fairer that the burden of framing and negotiating an exception should fall on the grantor.
The authors, composers, and publishers of and owners of certain other interests in a German musical play “Wie Einst in Mai,” which had been produced in the United States of America as “Maytime,” assigned to Hans Bartsch the motion picture rights and all the owners’ right, title, and interest in and in connection with such motion picture, together with the sole and exclusive rights to use, adapt, translate, add to and change the said operetta or musical play. The same was assigned by Bartsch to Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Warner Brothers transferred its rights to defendant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., which made, distributed and exhibited a highly successful motion picture "Maytime." Subsequently, MGM licensed its motion picture for television. Bartsch filed a complaint, alleging copyright infringement. The district court ruled in favor of MGM, holding that the assignment included the right to permit telecasting of the motion picture to be made from the musical play. The present appeal followed.
By licensing its motion picture for television, did MGM infringe the copyright of the assignor?
On appeal, the court reviewed the assignments and concluded that they were broad enough to cover the new use because the burden of framing and negotiating an exception fell on the grantors. According to the court, if Bartsch or his assignors had desired to limit "exhibition" of the motion picture to the conventional method where light was carried from a projector to a screen directly beheld by the viewer, they could have said so. The court held that a further reason favoring the broader view in a case like this was that it provided a single person who can make the copyrighted work available to the public over the penumbral medium, whereas the narrower view involved the risk that a deadlock between the grantor and the grantee might prevent the work's being shown over the new medium at all. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment dismissing the complaint of the copyright owner.