Law School Case Brief
Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp. - 81 F.2d 49 (2d Cir. 1936)
No plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate.
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.
Did Metro-Goldwyn’s appropriation of the original elements of Sheldon in his play amount to copying beyond fair use?
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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