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04H statutory vs common-law copyright

Where to Look in the Law

1909 Act: §2
1947 Act: §2
1976 Act: §301(a)

What the Courts Ruled


Savage vs Hoffmann

C.C.,S.D.N.Y. (4-6-1908) ¤ 159 F. 584

Franz Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow became popular early in its initial (1905 Vienna) engagement, so Lehar and business associates Leon and Stein profitably sold to London-based George Edwards the rights for productions in all languages for the U.S. and Canada.  Savage contends that he acquired those rights and exercised them in producing the operetta at the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway.  He authorized Chappeli & Co. to publish an orchestration and the words under U.S. copyright.  Discovering an unauthorized vaudeville abridgement, Savage sought to enjoin it.  In attempting this, Savage was frustrated by having statutory copyright in some respects but relying in other respects on common law.  The Court momentarily assumed that Savage had been granted (his “title is supported by the affidavits of” those stating they are “the sole general agents of Franz Lehar, Victor Leon, and Leo Stein”) the applicable copyright grants: “If so, he has taken the benefit of the copyright law, and he cannot rely upon his common law right.”  The case was dismissed for lack of evidence.


Cases Summarized in Other Sections

Samuel D. Goodis & William Goodis vs United Artists Television and American Broadcasting Company (launch this) untangles the complexity of copyright when a novel was published both in magazine and book forms as well as being adapted into a movie and television series.   The decision states when common-law status was lost.

Caliga vs Inter-Ocean Newspaper Co. (launch this) said that an artist could paint more of the same paintings while still protected by common law.   Publication of the painting required statutory copyright for continued protection.

Grandma Moses Properties, Inc. vs This Week Magazine et al (launch this) concerned the sale of a painting without restriction on reproduction.  When the painting was published without copyright being secured, common-law copyright ended on both that painting and one she made with only minor variations.

C. Brian Burke, M.D. vs National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (launch this) involved a common-law copyright that would have been lost but for the creator not having authorized the publication made of it.

Most, if not all, cases under underlying copyright: unpublished work entails common-law copyright.

A substantial number of other cases summarized on this web site were determined in part on rights to works which enjoyed common-law copyright protection, where statutory copyright had not been undertaken.  Read the pertinent other sections.




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