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A performance made available by transmission to the public at large is "public" even though the recipients are not gathered in a single place. The same principles apply whenever the potential recipients of the transmission represent a limited segment of the public, such as the occupants of hotel rooms. Thus, the transmission of a performance to members of the public, even in private settings such as hotel rooms, constitutes a public performance. As the statutory language and legislative history clearly indicate, the fact that members of the public view the performance at different times does not alter this legal consequence. If the same copy of a given work is repeatedly played, i.e., "performed," by different members of the public, albeit at different times, this constitutes a "public" performance.
Defendants were charging patrons to view video cassettes of the plaintiffs’ film in defendants' store. Defendants obtained the video cassette copies of plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures by purchasing them from either the plaintiffs or their authorized distributors. Plaintiffs brought a copyright infringement action against defendants, alleging that the exhibition or showing of the video cassettes in the private booths on defendants' premises constituted an unauthorized public performance in violation of plaintiffs' exclusive rights under the federal copyright laws. The trial court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, and dismissed defendants' counterclaim. Defendants appealed.
Did the exhibition of the video cassettes of the plaintiffs’ film in the private booths on defendants’ premises constitute an unauthorized public performance in violation of plaintiffs' exclusive rights under the federal copyright laws?
On appeal, the court found that defendants were licensed to distribute videos. However, the court found that defendants were not licensed for public performance, and the playing of the videos constituted public performance in violation of their license. Furthermore, the court found that the first sale doctrine did not apply, because plaintiffs did not forfeit or waive their rights in the videos. Additionally, the court found the co-defendants, officer and directors of defendant corporation, were liable as contributory infringers, and that plaintiffs' enforcement of their copyright rights was not an antitrust violation. Consequently, the judgment for plaintiffs was affirmed.