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Herman Axelbank vs George Rony, the Copley Press, Hallmark Productions, Kroger Babb, Fox West Coast Theaters Corp., National Broadcasting Company Inc., and Does One Through Twenty

U. S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (April 25, 1960) 277 F. 2d 314

Two collectors of film of the Russian Revolution each assembled from their own collections of public-domain newsfilm their own independent compilations.  Axelbank created one called Tsar to Lenin, a 70-minute feature copyrighted 1937.  GEORGE RONY licensed his footage to Hallmark Productions, Inc., which created Halfway to Hell, which was exhibited in theaters from 1953; RONY also licensed footage to NBC for a March 8, 1953, television show, and to KCOP (an independent Los Angeles television station) for a weekly series called Background to Battle (1955).  Axelbank wrote to KCOP suggesting that RONY had pirated Tsar to Lenin, prompting KCOP to cancel Background to Battle.  Both collections were huge, and both collectors had identical footage, yet no evidence indicated that RONY copied directly from Axelbank, nor did RONY copy the "new and original contribution of Axelbank" to his work: "the sequential development, the commentary..., and one map." 

In a footnote, the court wrote:

"4. Of course, even though the source of the material in appellant's film was the public domain, this would not permit Rony to directly copy appellant's film. Rony could use a copy of the original news-reel films which were part of the public domain, but he could not copy appellant's copy thereof. 'Others are free to copy the original. They are not free to copy the copy.' Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 1903, 188 U.S. 239, 249, 23 S. Ct. 298, 299, 47 L. Ed. 460"

The trial court found that the films were collected by independent efforts. Rony received a judgment as compensation for the cancelled television series and associated libel.

See: Citations and Case Summaries of the Copyright Registration and Renewal Web Site at: http://chart.copyrightdata.com/c10C.html

The complete court transcript is available at: http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/277/277.F2d.314.15916_1.html

See also: U.S. Map Copyright Litigation at: 277 F. 2d 314 125 USPQ 262 32 C. O. Bull. 32
This case concerns two rival documentaries on the Russian Revolution and what followed. In one of them, a map was used to aid in presenting the facts. This case does not really concern maps, but it was noted in passing that maps in films are copyrightable if the test of originality is met.

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