Transcriptions of Pre-1870 US Copyright Records

Until mid-1870, copyright registration duties were handled by the local U.S. District Court of the author or proprietor, while the work itself was deposited with the Department of State (until 1846), Library of Congress (1846-1859, 1865-1870), Smithsonian Institution (concurrently 1846-1859), and Patent Office (1859-1865, 1865-1870 concurrently).  In 1870 all copyright responsibilities were centralized in the Library of Congress.

I’ve been working on a number of projects regarding these oldest federal copyright records, which I hope to discuss more on this blog.  One of these projects has been to assemble all currently existing printed transcriptions of these records.  As each District Court maintained its own records and the pre-1870 records are still organized by Court, these transcriptions have mostly focused on individual states.  The list follows below: Continue reading “Transcriptions of Pre-1870 US Copyright Records”

9th Circuit Historical Records and Briefs: the United States v. Groucho and Chico Marx

Essentially every case filed on appeal has a printed transcript and briefs created as part of the appellate rules of most courts.  These transcripts are a trove of information about the case, because they contain everything recorded from the trial court, typeset and organized.  The briefs, of course, are the written arguments to the appellate court.  The Records and Briefs of the US Supreme Court (available as a database from Gale or on microfilm) are the best-known set of records, but every US Circuit Court of Appeals and state supreme and intermediate appellate court have such records.

Tonight, I discovered that a substantial cache of briefs from the 9th Circuit of Appeals, which had been collected by the Library at UC Irvine School of Law, are available online through the Internet Archive.  It’s unclear if the UC Irvine Library prepared an index to the volumes, but it doesn’t seem to be online anywhere.  There is a tool called the 9th Circuit Historical Records Index System (or 9chris), using the uncorrected OCR from the Internet Archive, but it’s a little wonky (although it works decently once you get used to it).

One case I did find was The United States v. Groucho & Chico Marx, filed 1937 with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where they were appealing their conviction for criminal copyright infringement.  The LA Times has a bit of information about the case, which concerned the use of a script the brothers had been sent but rejected.  The brothers were fined $1,000 but spared prison time.  In 1938 the 9th Circuit affirmed their conviction.

The case file contains a transcription of the original “Mr. Dibble and Mr. Dabble” sketch, transcripts of testimony from Groucho and Chico Marx , transcripts of radio programs in full, and of course the briefs of all parties.

A few other copyright cases I found, in a quick search:

  • K-91, Inc. v. Gershwin Publishing Corporation, 372 F. 2d 1 (9th Cir. 1967).  Case File
  • Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., 216 F.2d 945 (9th Cir. 1954) Case File (the Maltese Falcon / Sam Spade character copyright case)

There’s plenty more up there.  Surely a treasure trove for anyone looking at litigation on the west coast.

Transcribed Proceedings of CONTU

CONTU, or the Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works, was established in 1974 by United States Congress to study issues associated with copyrighted works in computers and computer-related works.1.  The Report examined issues of computers and copyright, as well as other related issues like photocopying, and issued its final report in 1978, which asserted inter alia that copyright could protect a computer program.2  Although the final report of CONTU has been available online for some time, transcripts of the proceedings of CONTU were prepared but have only been available in a haphazard manner, on or off-line.  With this post I’ve endeavored to compile and make available all the transcripts of CONTU.

I have linked to the transcripts of 22 out of 23 meetings of CONTU; the transcript to the 22nd Meeting was not easily available, although it was supposedly only an administrative meeting.  If anyone has it, let me know.  This list is adapted from the online version of Appendix G of the report, available here.

In addition to the transcripts I have digitized some of the Administrative Documents of CONTU (PDF, 4 MB), held by the Library of Congress, including the charter and annual reports from 1977 and 1978.

Links below the fold:

Continue reading “Transcribed Proceedings of CONTU”

  1. Wikipedia, CONTU
  2. The Copyright Office had accepted computer programs for registration since 1964, but the issue of whether this was appropriate lingered.

Movie Copyright Litigation from 1915: O’Neill v. General Film Co.

Today’s New York Times ran an article about the modernization of the Archives for New York County, and it reminded me of some research I did there for my draft article on common-law copyright.  Although I ended up not using it that much, I tracked down the files from a number of nonmusical common-law copyright cases, and this led me to the same New York County Municipal Archives, to look at the case file for O’Neill v. General Film Co., 171 App. Div. 854 (N.Y. App. Div. 1916).

The case was brought by James O’Neill, best known today as father of Eugene O’Neill, but an important actor of his day who owned the American common-law copyright rights to Charles Fechter’s English stage adaptation of the County of Monte Cristo.  He sued the General Film Company for distributing a film also based on the novel The Count of Monte Christo, which he alleged was also based on Fechter’s adaptation, and made substantially the same editorial and dramatic choices as Fechter.  1  O’Neill had been playing the lead role of Edmond Dantes for some 35 years by this point, to tremendous financial success, and in the same year the suit was originally brought (1912), he had starred in an authorized adaptation of The Count of Monte Christo.

Both sides hired prominent lawyers.  The plaintiff hired Dittenhoefer, Gerber & James, likely the leading theatrical law firm of its day – Judge A.J. Dittenhoefer had been a leading theater lawyer for decades at this point.2.  The defendant hired Nathan Burkan, a rising star in the legal world who only a few years later (and before the appeal was decided) would help found ASCAP.

At trial, the Court took testimony and ruled in favor of the plaintiff O’Neill, holding that the motion picture at issue infringed his rights in the the Fechter play at common law.  On appeal, the Court had no difficulty affirming the trial court on the count of copying, but found the question of chain of title and publication more pressing.  On the question of whether O’Neill truly had valid title to the common-law rights in the play the Court was equivocal, finding the evidence scanty, but ultimately affirmed the trial Court and held that he had produced sufficient evidence to bring the case and create a rebuttal presumption of ownership.  The Court had the most difficulty with publication – they agreed that performance of the play or taking photos of the production did not constitute a divestative publication that would destroy common-law rights, which only made sense following existing NY precedents and the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Ferris v. Frohman.  However, O’Neill had signed a contract several weeks earlier with the Famous Players Film Co,3 and the Court was concerned that this might have been a divstative publication of the unpublished play.  In the end, the Appellate Division held that the motion picture rights to any part of the unpublished play that were used in the authorized motion picture were deemed published, and thus the common-law rights had been lost.  However, O’Neill retained the common-law film rights to whatever parts of Fechter’s play had not been used in the motion picture.

The printed record of the case on appeal, which I scanned at The New York State Library in Albany, proved much more manageable than the original handwritten records of the case at The New York County Archives.  It contains a transcript of the testimony at trial which includes extensive documentation of theater practices for common-law copyright, by the plaintiff and others.4   The appellate briefs of the parties are also included, laying out the issue of common-law copyright as it was understood as of 1915.  However, not everything from the records in the New York County Archives is reproduced in the printed appellate record.  Notably, the New York County Archives has what appears to be a complete copy of Fechter’s dramatization, dated 1868.  Fechter’s drama has been reprinted several times, although not recently, and in differing versions.  It might be of interest to literary scholars.  In addition, the case file included a number of advertisements as exhibits; I’ve included them after the jump.

Continue reading “Movie Copyright Litigation from 1915: O’Neill v. General Film Co.”

  1. The film was not actually made by General Film, but rather by the Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago.  General Film was the distribution company of the Edison Trust.
  2. Dittenhoefer is best-remembered today for his association with Abraham Lincoln
  3. Famous Players later merged into what would become Paramount
  4. The testimony begins at page 61

Another Bibliography, This One for Performers/Sound Recordings

A bit ago I posted about the bibliographies the Copyright Office compiled the three bibliographies of design protection produced by the Copyright Office from 1955 to 1976.  Also in 1955, William Strauss of the U.S. Copyright Office produced a Bibliography on Neighboring Rights, which compiled everything known to have been published, up to that time, on the issue of the rights of performers under copyright, including protection under copyright law for sound recordings.  This book is available in a few law libraries but does not seem to be online, so I figured it made sense to share it here, especially given the recent decision of the New York Court of Appeals in the Flo & Eddie Case.

The Copyright Office did a very substantial study on performance rights for sound recordings in 1978, which included a selected bibliography of its own, commencing on page 1143.