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LEE v. RUNGE
Sup. Ct. of the U.S., 1971
404 U.S. 887, 92 S.Ct. 197.
NATURE OF CASE: Appeal from affirmation of a decision that copyrights had been infringed.
FACT SUMMARY: Utilizing what was then the state of the art concerning preserving youthful appearance via isometric facial exercises, Runge (P) wrote a copyrighted book called ″Face Lifting by Exercise,′′ only to find that her former employee, Lee (0), wrote a copyrighted book of very similar exercises.
CONCISE RULE OF LAW: The appropriate standard to determine copyrightability is ″originality,″ meaning the author must be the source of origin of the work, and not ″novelty,″ which applies to patents.
FACTS: In 1961, Runge (P) published a book entitled ″Face Lifting by Exercise, ′ ′ which contained what was the state of the art on preserving youthful appearance via isometric facial exercises. Lee (D), who had been employed in Runge′ s (P) beauty salon and had probably read the book while employed there, subsequently published her own book of strikingly similar exercises. Runge (P) successfully sued for copyright infringement, the appellate court approved the decision, and Lee (D) petitioned for a writ of certiorari. It is Lee′ s (D) contention that the lower courts incorrectly interpreted the constitutional provision for the granting of copyrights and patents. As the same provision underlies the issuance of both, she asserts that the ″novelty″ requirement for patentability is also applicable to copyrights.
ISSUE: Does the ··novelty′ ′ requirement for patent issuance cover copyrights as well?
HOLDING ANO DECISION: No. Unlike patents, copyrights may be issued without regard to any underlying ··novelty. ′ ′ All that is required is that the work be ′ ′original, ′ ′ which means that it have a source of origin in the ″author. ″ Writ denied.
DISSENT: (J. Douglas) The constitutional power over copyrights is found in the same clause that governs the issuance of patents and many of the same interests underlie both grants of power. The same introductory phrase acts as a limit on both grants of power: ·′to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts . . ..′ ′ This clearly limits power to grant either type of monopoly to what accomplishes the intended ′′promotion.′′ To allow a writer to compile and apply information available to all men and then obtain a monopoly on those ideas simply because she put them in her own words would be to go against everything our notions of freedom encompass. We have decided that items must be ′′novel′ ′ to accomplish the ′′promotion′′ which the Constitution sets forth as the only basis for granting a monopoly by patent. The same analysis applies to copyrights, so the standards should be similar. It must be noted, that this case deals not with the protection of the words which Runge (P) used to convey the public in formation involved; instead the desire is to create a monopoly in the ideas that are in the public domain simply because she has put them into her own words. This is a most telling reason why the novelty standard should be applied to copyright situations. Of course, quite different questions would be raised by actions for unfair competition or conversion of a common law property interest.
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