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A cause of action does not consist of facts, but of the unlawful violation of a right that the facts show. The number and variety of the facts alleged do not establish more than one cause of action so long as their result, whether they be considered severally or in combination, is the violation of but one right by a single legal wrong. The facts are merely the means, and not the end. They do not constitute the cause of action, but they show its existence by making the wrong appear.
Petitioners brought the present suit to enjoin respondents from publicly producing, presenting or performing a play called "The Spider," on the ground that it infringed a copyrighted play of petitioners, called "The Evil Hour." There was also a prayer for damages and an accounting. According to the petitioners, the feature of their play consisted in the representation of a spiritualistic seance on the stage, with the audience taking part therein. It was allegedly submitted to some respondents who considered and discussed its production; however, instead of producing petitioners’ play, the respondents altered their own play and incorporated therein the idea of spiritualistic seance on the stage, and also certain incidental "business and effects" and certain portions of "The Evil Hour". The petitioners alleged that the respondents’ action was a violation of the copyright laws of the United States and also constituted "unfair business practices and unfair competition against the petitioners. The trial court found that respondents' play did not infringe on petitioner's play and concluded that as a result, the court was without jurisdiction to entertain the allegations based upon claims other than for a violation of the copyright law. The court of appeals affirmed. Certiorari was granted.
The Supreme Court found that disposal of the infringement claim on the merits was proper. The court found that the claim of unfair competition was not properly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, but that it was properly disposed of on the merits. The court reasoned that the claims of infringement and unfair competition so precisely rested upon identical facts as to be little more than the equivalent of different epithets to characterize the same group of circumstances. The claim of infringement on the merits also disposed of the claim of unfair competition in respect of the copyrighted play, since both depended upon the same allegations of wrongful appropriation of certain parts of petitioners' play.