Court Rejects Fair Use Defense In Copyright Case
By Eric J. Olson
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - In a decision that could serve as a warning to
publishers,a federal judge in N.Y. has upheld a copyright infringement
claim involving the use of a single still photo culled from a motion
Richard Feiner & Co. was granted summary judgment Wednesday in U.S.
District Court in New York against HRI Industries, which owns the Hollywood
Reporter, for copyright infringement on the use of a Laurel & Hardy motion
picture still that the paper ran in a March 1997 issue.
According to Gregory A. Sioris, the attorney representing Feiner, the most
significant part of the ruling is the court's rejection of the ``fair use''
defense to copyright infringement.
In rejecting HRI's argument that the use of one still photo from an
underlying work is de minimis, or legally insignificant, and therefore a
fair use, the decision set an important precedent, reversing traditional
fair use guidelines followed by magazines and newspapers.
The ruling, which covers only the southern district of New York in which
the case was heard, can still be appealed by HRI. Executives at the
Hollywood Reporter could not be reached for comment.
Feiner, who is the sole copyright holder and licensor for several Laurel &
Hardy movies, initially sued HRI in October last year over the use of a
motion picture still of Laurel & Hardy from their silent film ``Liberty,''
which is one of the films he owns. The photo shows the two comedians in a
precarious predicament on top of a high-rise building under construction.
According to court documents, the newspaper bought the photo from Bison
Archives, a stock photo agency. Both parties agreed that the photo was
originally used as a promotional still for the MGM movie ``Laurel & Hardy's
Laughing 20's.'' The Hollywood Reporter colorized the photo and ran it in a
``Crafts Series'' section in its March 12, 1997 issue. The paper credited
Bison as the source of the photo.
After Feiner sued the Hollywood Reporter, the paper moved to dismiss
Feiner's complaint on several grounds including copyright permission by
MGM, public domain and fair use. The court rejected all these defenses in
its opinion granting summary judgment.
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