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Law School Case Brief

Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp. - 81 F.2d 49 (2d Cir. 1936)

Rule:

No plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate. 

Facts:

Sheldon authored a play about a famous murder trial. Although the play was based on the historical facts concerning the murder trial, plaintiff had altered the characters, events, and other significant details. When Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp. made a motion picture based largely upon the same murder trial, Sheldon initiated a suit for copyright infringement and sought to enjoin the film's performance. The trial court dismissed Sheldon’s complaint, finding that Metro-Goldwyn’s film appropriated only those elements from the play for which there could be no assertable copyright, such as its general themes, motives, or ideas.

Issue:

Did Metro-Goldwyn’s appropriation of the original elements of Sheldon in his play amount to copying beyond fair use?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court reversed, holding that Sheldon’s original authorship of certain elements, as deviating from the historical facts, were entitled to copyright protection. Further, the court ruled that because Metro-Goldwyn’s film substantially copied those protected elements, Metro-Goldwyn was liable for infringement, and the injunction was thus granted.

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