Ninth Circuit Rules in Copyright Infringement Suit Involving Jersey Boys’ Use of Ed Sullivan Clip

March 11, 2013

The New York State Bar Association EASL Blog

The Ninth Circuit issued a March 11, 2013 decision in SOFA Entertainment, Inc. v. Dodger Productions, Inc. The Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and attorneys' fees in a copyright infringement suit regarding ersey Boys' use of a seven-second clip of Ed Sullivan's introduction of the Four Seasons on "The Ed Sullivan Show".

Per the Court staff's case summary: "[T]he panel held that the defendants were entitled to prevail on their fair use defense as a matter of law. The defendants used the clip in Jersey Boys, their musical about the Four Seasons, to mark a historical point in the band's career. The panel held that this was a fair use because by using the clip for its historical significance, the defendants had imbued it with new meaning and had done so without usurping whatever demand there was for the original clip."

To the chagrin perhaps of the "transformative use" study group, the substantive part of the decision on the Section 107 fair use factors begins: "The central inquiry under the first factor is whether the new work is 'transformative.' Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 579 1994). Transformative works 'add[] something new' to an existing work, endowing the first with 'new expression, meaning, or message,' rather than merely supersed[ing] the objects of the original creation.' Id. By using [the clip] as a biographical anchor, Dodger put the clip to its own transformative ends...."

The Court also "doubted" whether the clip even qualified for copyright protection.

The discussion on awarding attorneys' fees to the defendant also bears note. Citing the prior case of Elvis Presley Enters., Inc. v. Passport Video, 349 F.3d 622, 629 (9th Cir. 2003), also involving use of a clip, the court harshly stated that SOFA should have received an "education" and "should have known from the outset that its chances of success in this case were slim to none." The Court also agreed with the district court's assessment that suits of this type have a "chilling effect on creativity insofar as they discourage the fair use of existing works in the creation of new ones."

To read the decision, click here: SOFA.pdf