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Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus - 210 U.S. 339, 28 S. Ct. 722 (1908)

Rule:

The copyright statutes, while protecting the owner of the copyright in his right to multiply and sell his production, do not create the right to impose, by notice, a limitation at which the book shall be sold at retail by future purchasers, with whom there is no privity of contract.

Facts:

Appellant, Bobbs-Merill Company, owned the copyright on a book titled "The Castaway." Printed in the book below the copyright notice was a notice that the book should not be sold for less than one dollar and sale for less constituted copyright infringement. Appellees, Isidor Straus and Nathan Straus, partners trading as R.H. Macy & Company purchased copies of the book to resell at the retail level and sold some below the cost of one dollar. Bobbs-Merill brought suit against the Straus partners seeking to restrain the sale of the novel at retail at less than one dollar for each copy. The Circuit Court dismissed the action. The appellant challenged the Circuit Court’s decision, arguing that copyrights and patent rights offered similar protection.

Issue:

Could the owner of the book’s copyright impose, by notice, a limitation at which the book shall be sold at retail by future purchasers?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit’s decision, holding that the books were sold at wholesale and purchased without any agreement as to future sale price; therefore, appellees were not obligated to enforce the notice in the book. According to the Court, copyright statutes, while protecting the owner in his right to multiply and sell his production, did not create the right to impose a price limitation through the notice.

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