Law School Case Brief
Folsom v. Marsh - 9 F. Cas. 342, 1841 U.S. App. LEXIS 468
A fair and bona fide abridgment of an original work, is not a piracy of the copyright of the author. But, then, what constitutes a fair and bona fide abridgment, in the sense of the law, is one of the most difficult points that can well arise for judicial discussion. It is clear, that a mere selection, or different arrangement of parts of the original work, so as to bring the work into a smaller compass, will not be held to be such an abridgment. There must be real, substantial condensation of the materials, and intellectual labor and judgment bestowed thereon; and not merely the facile use of the scissors; or extracts of the essential parts, constituting the chief value of the original work.
Plaintiffs alleged that defendants invaded its copyright by publishing, verbatim, copies of the letters of former President George Washington. A little over one third of defendants' publication was interspersed with never before published official letters and documents, and private letters written by Washington. The rest of the publication consisted of a narrative of Washington's life with explanatory notes and illustrations by the editor.
Did the defendants’ verbatim use in its own publication of the letters of former President Washington constitute an act of piracy that violated plaintiffs' copyright in the original work that the letters had been taken from?
The circuit court held that plaintiffs' copyright had been violated (pirated) because defendants' publication was not a fair and bona fide abridgment of an original work. There was no real, substantial condensation of the materials thus constituting a true labor of the intellect. If defendants could take 319 letters, included in plaintiffs' copyright, and exclusively belonging to them, there was no reason why another bookseller could not do the same.
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