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Where to Look in the Law

1909 Act: Not discussed
1947 Act: Not discussed
1976 Act: §107

Copyright Office Publications for Laymen

Permitted fair use includes “incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported”  (quoted from the 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law)  (Fact sheet FL102)

What the Supreme Court Ruled


International News Service vs Associated Press

248 U.S. 215 (12-23-1918)

The Court recognized about newspaper articles, “such an article, as a literary production, is the subject of copyright by the terms of the act as it now stands.[…]  But the news element—the information respecting current events contained in the literary production—is not the creation of the writer, but is a report of matters that ordinarily are publici juris; it is the history of the day.”

(A thorough summary of this case is under facts are not copyrightable.)

What the Lower Courts Ruled


Columbia Broadcasting System and Allan Jackson vs Documentaries Unlimited

Supreme Court, Special Term, NY Co. (4-2-1964) ¤ 248 NYS.2d 809, 141 USPQ 310

Allan Jackson’s announcement of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, as broadcast by CBS, was incorporated into “a phonograph record for commercial distribution entitled JFK, the Man, the President, all without the consent of CBS or Jackson.”  It “embodied about one minute of Jackson’s announcement in its 43-minute record.”  Finding: “Rendering of performance before radio microphone does not constitute an abandonment of ownership of copyrighted material or dedication of it to public at large.”


Italian Book Corporation vs American Broadcasting Company

USDC, SDNY (9-6-1978) ¤ 478 F.Supp. 65

The Court ruled that the doctrine of fair use applied when a street performance of copyrighted music was part of the coverage of a parade shown on the New York television station owned by ABC.  The song Dove St Zaza by Guiseppe Gioffi and Ruffoele Cutolo was under copyright when played at the San Gennaro Festival on Mulberry Street in the “Little Italy” section of Manhattan on September 15, 1974.


Roy Export Company Establishment of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, Black, Inc., A.G., Filmverhuurkantoor De Dam B.V., and rbc Films vs Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

USDC SDNY (12-17-1980) ¤ 503 F.Supp. 1137

Roy Export Company Establishment of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, Black, Inc., A.G., Filmverhuurkantoor De Dam B.V., and rbc Films vs Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

USCA (3-4-1982) ¤ 672 F.2d 1095
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CBS broadcast a half-hour program about Charlie Chaplin shortly after the great filmmaker/comedian’s death.  CBS drew heavily from a compilation prepared to precede Chaplin’s appearance at the Academy Awards in 1972.  That compilation had been licensed by the owner of the pertinent Chaplin films to be shown only on that one occasion.  No one connected with the Academy Awards nor the network which broadcast that ceremony (NBC) has the right to rebroadcast the compilation, nor had CBS succeeded in any negotiations to license the specific films excerpted in that compilation.

CBS “maintains that Chaplin’s 1972 return to the United States to appear before a nationwide television audience was a major news event, [and] that the showing of the Compilation was an irreducible part of that event, [yet] it was the fact of Chaplin’s appearance and not the artistic works which were presented with it which was arguably newsworthy five years later, upon his death.  CBS’ taking of virtually the entire Compilation cannot be justified by labeling it as part of a newsworthy event.”  (All quotes are from the District Court decision, which was affirmed by the Appeals Court.)  (A thorough summary of this case is under fair use.)

Cases Summarized in Other Sections

Orson Welles vs Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. et al (launch this) mentions in passing that anyone has the right to dramatize the panic that occurred Halloween Eve 1938 when Welles staged a radio broadcast which was mistaken as a news report by listeners.

Time Incorporated vs Bernard Geis Associates, et al. (launch this) mentions that the facts of the Kennedy assassination are not copyrightable although the film of it is.




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