List of copyright case law

List of copyright case law

The following is a list of cases that deal with issues of concern to copyright in various jurisdictions. Some of these cases are leading English cases as the law of copyright in various Commonwealth jurisdictions developed out of English law while these countries were colonies of the British Empire. Other cases provide background in areas of copyright law that may be of interest for the legal reasoning or the conclusions they reach.



  • Victoria Park Racing and Recreation Grounds Co. Ltd v. Taylor (1937) 58 CLR 479 idea-expression divide
  • Cuisenaire v. Reed (1963) VR 719 (a literary work cannot be infringed by a three-dimensional reproduction)
  • Commissioner of Tax (1970) 121 CLR 154 [negative right definition]
  • Elanco v. Mandops (1979) FSR 46 (instructions on herbicide are a literary device)
  • Zeccola v. Universal City Studios Inc. (1982) 46 ALR 189: there is no copyright in the idea of a theme or a story, but there may be a time where a combination of events and characters reaches sufficient complexity as to give rise to dramatic work copyright
  • Computer Edge Pty Ltd v. Apple Computer Inc (1986) 161 CLR 171 (test in Exxon for literary work is "not intended to establish a comprehensive or exhasutive definition of literary work for copyright purposes" per Mason and Wilson JJ)
  • CBS Records v. Gross (1989) 15 IPR 385 (a cover version of a song can be an original work itself capable of copyright protection)
  • Greenfield Products Pty Ltd v. Rover-Scott Bonnar Ltd (1990) 17 IPR 417 per Pincus J, what is not a sculpture
  • Yumbulul v. Reserve Bank of Australia (1991) 21 IPR 481: "copyright law does not provide adequate protection of Aboriginal community claims to regulate the reproduction and use of works which are essentially communal in origin"
  • Autodesk v. Dyason (No.2) (1993) 111 ALR 385 (the idea-expression divide is the "dominant principle in copyright law" per Mason CJ: "when the expression of any idea is inseparable from its function, it forms part of the idea and is not entitled to the protection of copyright" per Dawson J)
  • Sega Enterprises Ltd v. Galaxy Electronics Pty Ltd 35 IPR 161 (1997): interactive video games involving computer images fall in the definition of cinematograph film
  • Telstra v Desktop Marketing Systems [2001]: originality required to attract copyright protection - Treat this with caution - see Nine v IceTV as a better case




Pine Labs Pvt Ltd vs Gemalto Terminals India Pvt Limited- in FAO(OS) 635 of 2009 decided by DB Delhi High Court on 3.8.2011 ( Pine Labs Pvt Ltd vs Gemalto Terminals India Ltd and others): In the absence of the period of assignment or territory of assignment being specified, the assignment is deemed to be for 5 years and territory is deemed to be the territory of India as per section 19(5) and 19(6) of Copyright Act. After the period of 5 years, copyright reverts back to assignor.

New Zealand

  • Green v. Broadcasting Corp of NZ (1989) APIC 90-590: Privy Council definition of "dramatic works": " a dramatic work must have sufficient unity to be capable of performance"

United Kingdom

  • Gyles v Wilcox (1740) 3 Atk. 143; 26 Eng. Rep. 489 (a fair abridgement of a work is not copyright infringement)
  • Millar v. Taylor (1769) 4 Burr 2303; 98 ER 201 (copyright is a form of property)
  • Donaldson v. Beckett (1774) 4 Burr 2408; 98 ER 257 (copyright is not perpetual)
  • Dick v. Yates (1881) 18 Ch D 76: a title is not long enough to constitute a literary work
  • Kenrick v. Lawrence (1890) L.R. QBD 99
  • Hollingrake v. Truswell [1894] Ch. 420
  • Walter v. Lane (1900) AC 539 ("reporter's copyright")
  • Corelli v. Grey (1913) 29 TLR 570 (four reasons for clear objective similarity between works)
  • University of London Press Ltd. v. University Tutorial Press Ltd. [1916] 2 Ch. 601
  • Re Dickens (1934) 1 Ch 267
  • Hawkes & Son (London) Ltd v. Paramount Film Service Ltd [1934] 1 Ch 593: the Colonel Bogey case - infringement of copyright occurs when "a substantial, a vital and an essential part" of a work is copied, per Lord Slesser
  • Jennings v. Stephens [1936] Ch. 469 "performance in public" as infringement.
  • Donahue v. Allied Newspapers Ltd (1938) Ch 106 [ "idea-expression divide"]
  • Ladbroke (Football) Ltd v. William Hill (Football) Ltd [1964]1 WLR 273
  • LB (Plastics) Ltd. v. Swish Products Ltd. [1979] RPC 551 (the basis of copyright protection is that "one man must not be able to appropriate the result of another's labour")
  • Exxon Corp v. Exxon Insurance Consultants International (1981) 3 All ER 241 [Exxon name has no copyright]
  • Express Newspapers v. News (UK) Ltd (1990) 18 IPR 201 (confirming Walter v. Lane)

United States

Note: if no court name is given, according to convention, the case is from the Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court rulings are binding precedent across the United States; Circuit Court rulings are binding within a certain portion of it (the circuit in question); District Court rulings are not binding precedent, but may still be referred to by other courts.

Case name Reporter Court/Year Findings
Wheaton v. Peters 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 1834 There is no such thing as common law copyright and one must observe the formalities to secure a copyright.
Baker v. Selden 101 U.S. 99 1879 Idea-expression divide.
Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony 111 U.S. 53 1884 Extended copyright protection to photography.
White-Smith Music Publishing Company v. Apollo Company 209 U.S. 1 1908 Reproduction of the sounds of musical instruments playing music for which copyright granted not a violation of the copyright.
Bobbs-Merrill Co v. Straus 210 U.S. 339 1908 No license to use copyrighted material. License cannot extend holder's rights beyond statute defined by Congress.
Bauer & Cie. v. O'Donnell 229 U.S. 1 1913 Differences between patent and copyright defined also prohibits a license from extending holder's rights beyond statute.
Macmillan Co. v. King 223 F. 862 D.Mass. 1914 Limits of fair use with respect to an educational context and to summaries.
Nichols v. Universal Pictures Co. 45 F.2d 119 2d Cir. 1930 No copyright for "stock characters".
Shostakovich v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 196 Misc. 67, 80 N.Y.S.2d 575 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1948), aff'd 275 A.D. 692, 87 N.Y.S.2d 430 (1949) 1948–9 No moral rights in public domain works.
Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, Inc. 191 F.2d 99 2d. Cir. 1951 Variations of works in the public domain can be copyrighted if the new "author" contributed something more than a "merely trivial" variation, but no large measure of novelty is necessary.
National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications 191 F.2d 594 (1951), clarified 198 F.2d 927 (1952) 2d Cir. 1951–2 Derivative works; an author does not forfeit his copyright to a piece of intellectual property if his work is contracted to another who fails to properly copyright works which incorporate the original property (obsoleted by Copyright Act of 1976).
F. W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, Inc. 344 U.S. 227 1952 Provided wide latitude to judges when determining legal remedies based on the facts of the case.
Mazer v. Stein 347 U.S. 201 1954 Extended copyright protection to applied art.
Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc. 329 F. 2d 541 2d. Cir. 1964 Parody.
Fortnightly Corp. v. United Artists 392 U.S. 390 1968 Television broadcasters "perform" copyrighted works. Viewers do not perform. CATV was more like a viewer than a broadcaster and did not infringe when rebroadcasting copyrighted works.
Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States 487 F.2d 1345 Ct. Cl. 1973 Libraries' photocopying for research was fair use.
Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken 422 U.S. 151 1975 Playing a radio broadcast of a copyrighted work at a business was not copyright infringement Radio reception does not constitute a "performance" of copyrighted material.
Schnapper v. Foley 667 F.2d 102 D.C. Cir. 1981 Affirmed that copyright exists for works created by contractors for the US government.
Stern Electronics, Inc. v. Kaufman 669 F.2d 852 2d Cir. 1982 Copyright on computer programs includes images and sounds as well as the computer code.
Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corp. 714 F.2d 1240 3rd Cir. 1983 Computer software is protected by copyright (affirmed and obsoleted by subsequent legislation).
Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (the "Betamax case") 464 U.S. 417 1984 Products with substantial non-infringing uses (video recorders) may be sold even if they can be used illicitly.
Dowling v. United States 473 U.S. 207 1985 Copyright infringement is not theft, conversion, or fraud; illegally-made copies are not stolen goods.
Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises 471 U.S. 539 1985 The interest served by republication of a public figure's account of an event is not sufficient to permit nontransformative fair use.
Fisher v. Dees 794 F.2d 432 9th Cir. 1986 Parody of song performance is legitimate fair use
Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 663 F. Supp. 706 S.D.N.Y. 1987 Derivative works.
Anderson v. Stallone 11 USPQ2D 1161 C.D. Cal 1989 Derivative works.
Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid 490 U.S. 730 1989 Works for hire.
Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corporation 758 F. Supp. 1522 S.D.N.Y. 1991 Articles copied for educational use are not necessarily fair use.
Advent Sys. Ltd. v. Unisys Corp 925 F.2d 670, 675-76 3d Cir. 1991 The sale of software is the sale of a good within the meaning of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Downriver Internists v. Harris Corp 929 F.2d 1147, 1150 6th Cir. 1991 The sale of software is the sale of a good within the meaning of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service 499 U.S. 340 1991 "Sweat of the brow" alone is not sufficient to bestow copyright.
Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. 780 F. Supp. 182 SDNY 1991 Music sampling is generally copyright infringement.
Step-Saver Data Systems, Inc. v. Wyse Technology 939 F.2d 91 3rd Cir. 1991 The need to characterize the transaction as a license to use software is "largely anachronistic.".
Computer Associates Int. Inc. v. Altai Inc. 982 F.2d 693 2d Cir. 1992 "Substantial similarity" is required for copyright infringement to occur.
Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc. 780 F. Supp. 1283 9th Cir. 1992 Consumers may modify purchased computer games for their own use.
Rogers v. Koons 960 F.2d 301 2d Cir. 1992 Fair use and parody.
MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc. 991 F.2d 511 9th Cir. 1993 RAM ("working memory") copies of computer programs are governed by copyright.
Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. 35 F.3d 1435 9th Cir. 1994 Certain components of computer programs' graphical user interfaces are not copyrightable.
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. 510 U.S. 569 1994 Commercial parody can be fair use.
Carter v. Helmsley-Spear Inc. 861 F. Supp. 303 S.D.N.Y., 1994 Interpreting moral rights provisions of U.S. Visual Artists Rights Act (overturned for other reasons: 71 F.3d 77 (2d Cir. 1995), cert. denied 116 S. Ct. 1824 (1996)).
Lotus v. Borland 49 F.3d 807 1st Cir. 1995 Software interfaces per se are "methods of operation" and are not covered by copyright.
Self-Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church 59 F.3d 902, 910 9th Cir. 1995 Renewal rights are not assignable.
Religious Technology Center v. Netcom 907 F. Supp. 1361 N.D. Cal. 1995 Immunity of copyright liability for Internet Intermediaries.
Applied Info. Mgmt., Inc, v. Icart 976 Supp. 149, 155 E.D.N.Y. 1997 The sale of software is the sale of a good. Case was dropped.
Itar-Tass Russian News Agency v. Russian Kurier, Inc. 153 F.3d 82 2d Cir. 1998 Jurisdiction with closest association to putative owner applies to determine copyright ownership.
The Yankee Candle Co. v. New England Candle Co. 14 F.Supp.2d 154 District Court of Massachusetts 1998 Internal structure does not qualify as "building" under 17 U.S.C. § 101.
Bridgeman Art Library Ltd. v. Corel Corporation 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 S.D.N.Y. 1999 "Slavish copying" is inherently uncreative and cannot confer copyright.
Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc. 194 F.3d 1211 11th Cir. 1999 Giving a public speech is not public-domain publication under the 1909 Copyright Act.
Novell, Inc. v. CPU Distrib., Inc. 2000 US Dist. Lexis. 9975 SD Tex. 2000 The first-sale doctrine applies to software.
UMG v. 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5761 S.D.N.Y. 2000 Distribution of copyrighted music without permission of the copyright holders is infringement even if the downloader already owns a copy of the music.
A & M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. 239 F.3d 1004 9th Cir. 2001 Knowingly failing to take steps to prevent infringement, while benefiting from said infringement, is grounds for contributory infringement. Also, users of file-sharing services infringe by both uploading and downloading works without permission.
New York Times Company v. Tasini 533 U.S. 483 2001 Freelance journalists did not grant electronic republication rights for collective work.
SoftMan Products Co. v. Adobe Systems Inc. CV 00-04161 DDP (AJWx) C.D.C.A. 2001 The first-sale doctrine applies to software.
Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin 252 F. 3d 1165 11th Cir. 2001 Parody and fair use.
Universal v. Reimerdes 273 F.3d 429 2d Cir. 2001 Affirmed the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Cong. Int'l 241 F.3d 398, 416 5th Cir. 2001 A private organization cannot assert copyright protection for its model codes, after the models have been adopted by a legislative body and become the law.
Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation 280 F.3d 934 3d Cir. 2002 Thumbnails and inline linking can be fair use.
Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. 539 U.S. 23 2003 Trademark cannot preserve rights to a public domain work.
Eldred v. Ashcroft 537 U.S. 186 2003 Congress may retroactively extend the duration of works still under copyright, as long as the extension is limited.
CoStar v. LoopNet 373 F.3d 544 4th Cir. 2004 Internet service provider was found not liable for copyright infringement of photographs uploaded by subscribers, despite the screening process by a employee of the Internet service provider before the photographs were stored and displayed.
Arizona Cartridge Remanufacturers Association Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc. 03-16987 D.C. No. CV-01-04626SBA/JL OPINION 9th Cir. 2005 End User License Agreements on a physical box can be binding on consumers who signal their acceptance of the license agreement by opening the box.
Golan v. Gonzales No. 01-B-1854, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6800 D.Co. 2005 Congress may not retroactively restore copyright in works that have fallen into the public domain (a contrary principle in patent case law being held inapplicable to copyright).
MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. 545 U.S., 125 S. Ct. 2764 2005 Distributors of peer-to-peer file-sharing software can be liable for copyright infringement if there are "affirmative steps taken to foster infringement".
Perfect 10 v. Google Inc 416 F. Supp. 2d 828 C.D. Cal. 2006 Thumbnails in Web searches were fair use. Framed inline images of full size were not infringing copies. (9th circuit reversed the DC's holding of no Fair Use)
Perfect 10 v. CCBill LLC 488 F.3d 1102 9th Cir. 2007 DMCA notification procedures place the burden of policing copyright infringement on the owners of the copyright. CDA Section 230 means only “federal intellectual property," and does not include state right of publicity claims.
Perfect 10 v. Visa 494 F.3d 788 9th Cir. 2007 A case about secondary copyright infringement
Kahle v. Mukasey No. 04-17434 9th Cir. 2007 Congress did not alter the "traditional contours of copyright protection" by permitting automatic extension of copyrights.

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