Intellectual Property, Pages 384–388

Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp. et al.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 1930

Facts:

The parties each produced plays about Jewish and Irish children falling in love despite their fathers' disdain for the other race, marrying in secret, the children being discovered and estranged,, them having their own children, and the fathers finally reconciling.

Issue:

Did defendant's play infringe on a copyright of plaintiff's?

Reasoning:

Plots themselves can infringe upon others' copyrights in their plots. How much they must overlap is another question. The less developed the characters, the less they can be copyrighted.

Here, the two plays are quite different, and the defendant did not take more than allowed. Even if the defendant's plot was original, merely having characters with these backgrounds is not copyrightable. Such a theme is too general to copyright. A play with these traits is no more similar to plaintiff's than it is to Romeo and Juliet.

Holding:

No, defendant's play did not infringe upon a copyright of plaintiff's. Affirmed.


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