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Gilliam v. ABC - 538 F.2d 14 (2d Cir. 1976)


Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a), the federal counterpart to state unfair competition laws, has been invoked to prevent misrepresentations that may injure plaintiff's business or personal reputation, even where no registered trademark is concerned. It is sufficient to violate the Act that a representation of a product, although technically true, creates a false impression of the product's origin. 


Appellant creators developed a television series, "Monty Python." Under a contract with a British broadcasting association, the creators retained strict creative control over the finished programs. The British broadcasting association licensed the programs to appellee American Broadcasting Company (ABC) for rebroadcast in America. When the creators learned that ABC had drastically shortened the programs and edited them for profanity, they sued for copyright infringement and violation of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a). The United States district court denied them injunctive relief, refusing to enjoin ABC's broadcast, and the creators appealed.


Were the television program creators entitled to the issuance of a preliminary injunction enjoining the American re-broadcast of their program?




The court held that the programs were derivative works under § 7 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. § 101 et seq., and therefore, did not subsume appellants' underlying copyright in the scripts. Although American copyright law did not recognize a cause of action for violation of artists' moral rights, the Lanham Act protected against mutilation of artistic works as a false designation of origin of goods. The court enjoined ABC from further infringement.

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