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G. Ricordi & Co. v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. - 189 F.2d 469 (2d Cir. 1951)


17 U.S.C.S. § 7 expressly provides that a copyright on a new work shall neither extend nor be construed to imply an exclusive right to use the original work from which the new work is derived. 


In 1897 John Luther Long wrote a novel entitled 'Madame Butterfly,' which was published in the Century Magazine and copyrighted by the Century Company. In 1900 David Belasco, with the consent of the copyright owner, wrote a play based upon the novel and having the same title. The play was not copyrighted until 1917. In 1901 Long and Belasco made a contract with the plaintiff Ricordi by which they gave it the exclusive rights  and property to make a libretto for an Opera of his Belasco's dramatic version of Madame Butterfly. Thus, Ricordi sought declaratory judgment against defendant Paramount Pictures with respect to motion picture rights in the copyrighted opera Madame Butterfly. The triat court awarded a judgment declaring the plaintiff to be the exclusive owner of motion picture rights in the renewal copyright of the opera and enjoining the defendant from interfering with the plaintiff's exercise of such rights. The defendant appealed.


Did the plaintiff have exclusive copyright to motion picture rights?




The court affirmed the decision declaring plaintiff was the exclusive owner of motion picture rights in the renewal copyright of an opera. The court stated that the right the author had to make motion pictures of the story of his copyrighted novel did not extend beyond the term of the copyright. Therefore if it was assumed that he assigned plaintiff any moving picture rights, they were necessarily similarly limited to the term of the copyright, unless the assignment included the right of renewal. However, the court held when the copyright expired, the copyrightable new matter in the play was property in the public demesne, since the record disclosed no renewal of the copyright. The court stated the plaintiff was as free to use the play as was the defendant in making a motion picture version of the play.

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