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U.S. Supreme Court

Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., 309 U.S. 390 (1940)

Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp.

No. 482

Argued February 8, 9, 1940

Decided March 25, 1940

309 U.S. 390


1. That clause of § 25(b) of the Copyright Act which authorizes recovery from an infringer, "in lieu of actual damages and profits," of "such damages as to the court shall appear to be just" is inapplicable where the only matter in question is the apportionment of profits established. P. 309 U. S. 399.

2. The purpose of § 25(b) of the Copyright Act, in awarding to a copyright proprietor against an infringer "all the profits which the infringer shall have made from such infringement," is to provide just compensation for the wrong, not to impose a penalty by giving to the copyright proprietor profits which are not attributable to the infringement. P. 309 U. S. 399.

3. Where it is clear that the profits made by a copyright infringer are attributable in part to use of copyright material, but in part to what the infringer himself supplied, and where the evidence provides a fair basis of division, so as to give the copyright proprietor all the profits that can be deemed to have resulted from the use that belonged to him, the profits will be apportioned accordingly. Callaghan v. Myers, 128 U. S. 617, and Belford v. Scribner, 144 U. S. 488, distinguished. Pp. 309 U. S. 399-402.

4. Principles governing apportionment of profits in patent infringement cases apply to cases of copyright infringement. P. 309 U. S. 402.

5. In apportionment of profits between copyright proprietor and infringer, where mathematical exactness may be impossible, all that is required is a reasonable approximation, which may be attained with the aid of expert testimony. P. 309 U. S. 403.

6. The amendment of the Patent Law (R.S. § 4921; Act of February 18, 1922) which expressly recognizes the use of expert testimony in establishing damages or profits from patent infringement, did not enlarge in that respect the rules already applied in courts of equity, and the fact that the copyright law was not similarly amended does not detract from the jurisdiction to receive evidence of experts in copyright infringement cases whenever found competent. P. 309 U. S. 405.

Page 309 U. S. 391

7. Even in a case of deliberate plagiarism, the copyright owner, upon an equitable accounting of profits, can have only such profits as were due to the infringement. To award more would be to inflict an unauthorized penalty. P. 309 U. S. 405.

8. Where the evidence showed that, in the production of a motion picture which was exhibited at great profit, material had been deliberately lifted from a copyrighted play, but that much the greater part of the profits was due to the actors, scenery, skill in production, expenses, etc., supplied and paid for by the infringers, an apportionment, with the aid of expert testimony, resulted in awarding one-fifth to the copyright proprietors. P. 406.

106 F.2d 45 affirmed.

Certiorari, 308 U.S. 545, to review the reversal of a decree, 26 F.Supp. 134, which awarded to the present petitioners all of the net profits derived by the respondents from a motion picture infringing the petitioners' copyright. No question of burden of proof was involved.

Page 309 U. S. 396

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