Copryright – Infringement – Parody of Dramatic Production Held Not to Be Fair Use

Prior to December 1938, Patrick Hamilton wrote an original play entitled “Gaslight” which subsequently was published, performed and protected by copyright in both England and the United States. Loew’s acquired exclusive motion picture rights to the play on October 7, 1942, and produced an original feature-length motion picture photoplay of the drama, also entitled “Gaslight.” In 1945 Jack Benny sought and received permission to produce a 15-minute parody of the motion picture for his radio program. In 1953, without securing Loew’s permission, Benny produced a 15-minute filmed parody of the motion picture for his television program. It was entitled “Autolight” and the locale, setting, characters, story points, development of the story and dialogue were practically identical with “Gaslight.” Loew’s sued to enjoin performance of the Benny program. The district court granted the injunction, holding that there had been a substantial taking of the copyrighted material and that there was no defense of fair use in this instance. The court of appeals affirmed with language which could be interpreted as never allowing a fair use defense to infringement for parody or burlesque. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, held, affirmed without opinion by an equally divided court. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., v. Loew’s, 356 U.S. 43 (1958), reh. den. 356 U.S. 934 (1958).