List of leading legal cases in copyright 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)
  • Pacific Film Laboratories v. 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
  • 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



  • Societe Le Chant du Monde v. Societe Fox Europe and Societe Fox Americaine Twentieth Century Cour d'appel, Paris, Jan. 13, 1953, D.A. 1954, 16, 80, held in favor of the plaintiffs due to the very strong moral rights regime in France.

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

  • 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 consistute 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 Subject, important findings
Wheaton v. Peters33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 5911834There is no such thing as common law copyright and one must observe the formalities to secure a copyright.
Baker v. Selden101 U.S. 991879Idea-expression divide.
Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony111 U.S. 531884Extended copyright protection to photography.
Bobbs-Merrill Co v. Straus210 U.S. 3391908No license to use copyrighted material. License cannot extend holder's rights beyond statute defined by Congress.
Bauer & Cie. v. O'Donnell229 U.S. 11913Differences between patent and copyright defined also prohibits a license from extending holder's rights beyond statute.
Macmillan Co. v. King223 F. 862D.Mass. 1914Limits of fair use with respect to an educational context and to summaries.
Nichols v. Universal Pictures Co.45 F.2d 1192d Cir. 1930No 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)1948–9No moral rights in public domain works.
National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications191 F.2d 594 (1951), clarified 198 F.2d 927 (1952)2d Cir. 1951–2Derivative 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).
Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc.329 F. 2d 5412d. Cir. 1964Parody.
Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States487 F.2d 1345Ct. Cl. 1973Libraries' photocopying for research was fair use.
Stern Electronics, Inc. v. Kaufman669 F.2d 8522d Cir. 1982Copyright on computer programs includes images and sounds as well as the computer code.
Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corp.714 F.2d 12403rd Cir. 1983Computer 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. 4171984Products with substantial non-infringing uses (video recorders) may be sold even if they can be used illicitly.
Dowling v. United States473 U.S. 2071985Copyright infringement is not theft, conversion, or fraud; illegally-made copies are not stolen goods.
Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises471 U.S. 5391985The interest served by republication of a public figure's account of an event is not sufficient to permit nontransformative fair use.
Fisher v. Dees794 F.2d 4329th Cir. 1986Parody of song performance is legitimate fair use
Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.663 F. Supp. 706S.D.N.Y. 1987Derivative works.
Anderson v. Stallone11 USPQ2D 1161C.D. Cal 1989Derivative works.
Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid490 U.S. 7301989Works for hire.
Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corporation758 F. Supp. 1522S.D.N.Y. 1991Articles copied for educational use are not necessarily fair use.
Advent Sys. Ltd. v. Unisys Corp925 F.2d 670, 675-763d Cir. 1991The sale of software is the sale of a good within the meaning of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Downriver Internists v. Harris Corp929 F.2d 1147, 11506th Cir. 1991The sale of software is the sale of a good within the meaning of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service499 U.S. 3401991"Sweat of the brow" alone is not sufficient to bestow copyright.
Grand Upright Music Ltd v. Warner Bros Records780 F. Supp. 182 and 91 Civ 7648SDNY 1991Music sampling is generally copyright infringement.
Step-Saver Data Systems, Inc. v. Wyse Technology939 F.2d 913rd Cir. 1991The need to characterize the transaction as a license to use software is "largely anachronistic.".
Computer Associates Int. Inc. v. Altai Inc.982 F.2d 6932d Cir. 1992"Substantial similarity" is required for copyright infringement to occur.
Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc.780 F. Supp. 12839th Cir. 1992Consumers may modify purchased computer games for their own use.
Rogers v. Koons960 F.2d 3012d Cir. 1992Fair use and parody.
MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc.991 F.2d 5119th Cir. 1993RAM ("working memory") copies of computer programs are governed by copyright.
''Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp.35 F.3d 14359th Cir. 1994Certain components of computer programs' graphical user interfaces are not copyrightable.
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.510 U.S. 5691994Commercial parody can be fair use.
Carter v. Helmsley-Spear Inc.861 F. Supp. 303S.D.N.Y., 1994Interpreting 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. Borland49 F.3d 8071st Cir. 1995Software interfaces per se are "methods of operation" and are not covered by copyright.
Self-Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church59 F.3d 902, 9109th Cir. 1995Renewal rights are not assignable.
Applied Info. Mgmt., Inc, v. Icart976 Supp. 149, 155E.D.N.Y. 1997The sale of software is the sale of a good. Case was dropped.
Itar-Tass Russian News Agency v. Russian Kurier, Inc.153 F.3d 822d Cir. 1998Jurisdiction with closest association to putative owner applies to determine copyright ownership.
Bridgeman Art Library Ltd. v. Corel Corporation36 F. Supp. 2d 191S.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 121111th Cir. 1999Giving a public speech is not public-domain publication under the 1909 Copyright Act.
Novell, Inc. v. CPU Distrib., Inc.2000 US Dist. Lexis. 9975SD Tex. 2000The first-sale doctrine applies to software.
UMG v. MP3.com2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5761S.D.N.Y. 2000Distribution 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 10049th Cir. 2001Knowingly 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. Tasini533 U.S. 4832001Freelance 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. 2001The first-sale doctrine applies to software and cannot be waived or taken away through an end-user license agreement.
Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin252 F. 3d 116511th Cir. 2001Parody and fair use.
Universal v. Reimerdes273 F.3d 4292d Cir. 2001Affirmed the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Cong. Int'l241 F.3d 398, 4165th Cir. 2001A 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 Corporation280 F.3d 9343d Cir. 2002Thumbnails and inline linking can be fair use.
Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.539 U.S. 232003Trademark cannot preserve rights to a public domain work.
Eldred v. Ashcroft537 U.S. 1862003Congress may retroactively extend the duration of works still under copyright, as long as the extension is limited.
CoStar Group v. LoopNet373 F.3d 5444th Cir. 2004Internet service provider was found liable for copyright infringement of photographs of commercial real estate by allowing subscribers to post the photographs on the provider's website.
Arizona Cartridge Remanufacturers Association Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc.03-16987 D.C. No. CV-01-04626SBA/JL OPINION9th Cir. 2005End 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. GonzalesNo. 01-B-1854, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6800D.Co. 2005Congress may 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. 27642005Distributors 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 IncCASE NO. CV 04-9484 AHM (SHx)CDCA 2006Thumbnails 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)

See also

worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page.

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(and largest city)
Official languages English
Membership 53 sovereign states
 -  Head of the Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth II
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British Empire was the largest empire in history and for a substantial time was the foremost global power. It was a product of the European age of discovery, which began with the maritime explorations of the 15th century, that sparked the era of the European colonial empires.
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idea-expression divide or idea-expression dichotomy is a concept which explains the appropriate function of copyright laws, which are generally designed to protect the fixed expression or manifestation of an idea rather than the fundamental idea itself.
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In Pacific Film Laboratories v. Commissioner of Tax (1970) 121 CLR 154, (Australia) Windeyer J defined copyright: "It is not a right in an existing thing. It is a negative right, as it has been called, a power to prevent the making of a physical thing by copying.
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idea-expression divide or idea-expression dichotomy is a concept which explains the appropriate function of copyright laws, which are generally designed to protect the fixed expression or manifestation of an idea rather than the fundamental idea itself.
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Canadian Admiral Corporation Ltd. v. Rediffusion Inc. , [1954] Ex. CR 382, 20 CPR 75 is a Canadian copyright law decision by the Exchequer Court (a predecessor of the Federal Court of Canada).
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Snow v. The Eaton Centre Ltd. (1982) 70 C.P.R. (2d) 105 is a leading Canadian decision on moral rights. The Ontario High Court of Justice affirmed the artist's right to integrity of their work.
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worldwide view.

Intellectual property law
Primary rights
  • Copyright
  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Industrial design rights
  • Utility models
  • Geographical indication
  • Trade secrets
  • Related rights
  • Tradenames
  • Domain names

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Apple Computer, Inc. v. Mackintosh Computers Ltd. (1986), 10 CPR (3d) 1, is a leading Canadian case on copyright law regarding the copyrightability of software. The Court found that programs within ROM silicon chips are protected under the Copyright Act, and the conversion
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Prise de Parole Inc. v. Guérin éditeur Ltée [1996] F.C.J. No. 1427[1] is a leading Canadian case on moral rights in copyright law. The Court found that the plaintiff's moral rights had not been violated because there was no subjective evidence that the
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Gould Estate v. Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd. 1998 CanLII 5513 (ON C.A.), is a leading Canadian copyright case on the ownership of copyright and requirements of fixation.
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Théberge v. Galerie d'Art du Petit Champlain Inc. [2002] 2 S.C.R. 336, 2002 SCC 34 is one of the Supreme Court of Canada's leading cases on copyright law. This case interprets the meaning of "reproduction" within the Copyright Act of Canada, as well as touches on the
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Robertson v. Thomson Corp. is a 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision on the ownership of copyright in published text that are stored in databases.


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CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada, [2004] 1 S.C.R. 339, 2004 SCC 13 is the landmark Supreme Court of Canada case that establishes the bounds of fair dealing in Canadian copyright law.
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BMG Canada Inc. v. John Doe, 2004 FC 488 aff'd 2005 FCA 193, is an important Canadian copyright law, file-sharing, and privacy case, where both the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal refused to allow the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) and
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Millar v. Taylor, 4 Burr. 2303, 98 Eng. Rep. 201 (K.B. 1769), is an English court decision that held there is a perpetual common law copyright and that no works ever enter the public domain.
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Property law
Part of the common law series
Acquisition of property
Gift  · Adverse possession  · Deed
Lost, mislaid, and abandoned property
Alienation  · Bailment  · License
Estates in land
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Donaldson v. Beckett, 2 Brown's Parl. Cases 129, 1 Eng. Rep. 837; 4 Burr. 2408, 98 Eng. Rep. 257 (1774); 17 Cobbett's Parl. Hist. 953 (1813) is the ruling by the British House of Lords that denied the existence of a perpetual common law copyright and held that copyright was
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Kenrick v. Lawrence (1890) L.R. 25, Q.B.D. 99 was a seminal English case on the nature of copyright. In it the court establishes the extent for which copyright protection is given for a work and at which point it crosses the line from "expression", which is protected, to
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Walter v. Lane [1900] AC 539, (House of Lords) — a precedent in the Commonwealth countries that recognized fixation could be a determining factor in copyright determinations.


A speech is given in public by a politician.
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Released 1914
Composer(s) Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts

The "Colonel Bogey March" is a popular march that was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (1881-1945), a British military bandmaster who was director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth.
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idea-expression divide or idea-expression dichotomy is a concept which explains the appropriate function of copyright laws, which are generally designed to protect the fixed expression or manifestation of an idea rather than the fundamental idea itself.
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Exxon Corp. v. Exxon Insurance Consultants International Ltd [19813 All ER 241]] is a leading decision in English law on the existence of copyright in a name alone and the infringement of a trade mark.
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Walter v. Lane [1900] AC 539, (House of Lords) — a precedent in the Commonwealth countries that recognized fixation could be a determining factor in copyright determinations.


A speech is given in public by a politician.
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Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported.
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Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834), was the United States Supreme Court ruling on copyright, its first on the subject, in which it upheld the power of Congress to make a grant of copyright protection subject to conditions and rejected the doctrine of a common law
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Common law copyright is the legal doctrine which contends that copyright is a natural right and creators are therefore entitled to the same protections anyone would be in regard to tangible and real property.
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Baker v. Selden
Supreme Court of the United States
Decided October Term, 1879

Full case name: Baker v. Selden

Citations: 101 U.S.
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