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SunTrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co. - 268 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir. 2001)

Rule:

A copyright infringement plaintiff is not entitled to relief in the form of a preliminary injunction unless it has proved each of the following four elements: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, (2) a substantial threat of irreparable injury if the injunction were not granted, (3) that the threatened injury to the plaintiff outweighs the harm an injunction may cause the defendant, and (4) that granting the injunction would not disserve the public interest. 

Facts:

The trustee's decedent authored the book "Gone With the Wind," the best selling book, aside from the Bible, in the world. The publisher owned the rights to a new book, "The Wind Done Gone" written by an African American author that was a critique of the depiction of slavery and the Civil War-era American South that used and drew upon the characters and story line from decedent's book. The trustee filed an action for preliminary injunction to enjoin the book's publication, which the trustee alleged to infringe upon the copyright of the trustee's deceased's work of fiction, upon which it was admittedly based. The district court found the newer book infringed on the copyright of decedent's book, that irreparable injury could be presumed, and granted a preliminary injunction. On appeal, the publisher argued that there was no substantial similarity between the two works or, in the alternative, that the doctrine of fair use protected the newer book because it was primarily a parody. 

Issue:

Did the doctrine of fair use protect the book, "The Wind Done Gone" because it was recognized to be a parody?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The judgment of the district court was reversed and remanded.The appellate court found that the newer book was clearly a parody, a specific criticism of and rejoinder to the decedent's book that it provided social benefit by shedding light on the earlier work. At the preliminary injunction stage, the publisher was entitled to a fair use defense for its parody, that was unlikely to be confused with or cause market harm to the trustee's decedent's work of fiction. Moreover, although fair use was an affirmative defense, the trustee had the burden of proof to obtain injunctive relief. Prior restraint was not warranted absent an affirmative showing of irreparable injury. It was also apparent that there would be little risk of market substitution, as the works were unlikely to be confused.

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