191 F.2d 99 (2nd Cir. 1951), 271, Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts

Docket Nº:271, 21599.
Citation:191 F.2d 99, 90 U.S.P.Q. 153
Party Name:ALFRED BELL & CO. Ltd. v. CATALDA FINE ARTS, Inc. et al.
Case Date:July 20, 1951
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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191 F.2d 99 (2nd Cir. 1951)

90 U.S.P.Q. 153




Nos. 271, 21599.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

July 20, 1951

Argued June 7, 1951.

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Guggenheimer & Untermyer, New York City (Abraham Shamos, Rudolph E. Uhlman and William J. Cohen, all of New York City, of counsel), for plaintiff.

Ehrich, Royall, Wheeler & Holland, New York City (James G. Holland and Robert A. Roth, New York City, of counsel), for United States Printing & Lithograph Co.

Purdy & Lamb, New York City (Edmund F. Lamb and Anthony B. Cataldo, New York City, of counsel), for Catalda Fine Arts, Inc. and Michael F. Catalda.

Before CHASE, CLARK and FRANK, Circuit Judges.

The facts are reported in the opinions of the district judge. See 74 F.Supp. 973, and 86 F.Supp. 399.

FRANK, Circuit Judge.

1. Congressional power to authorize both patents and copyrights is contained in Article 1, Sec. 8 of the Constitution. 1 In passing on the validity of patents, the Supreme Court recurrently insists that this constitutional provision governs. On this basis, pointing to the Supreme Court's consequent requirement that, to be valid, a patent must disclose a high degree of uniqueness, ingenuity and inventiveness, the defendants assert that the same requirement constitutionally governs copyrights. As several sections of the Copyright Act- e.g., those authorizing copyrights of 'reproductions of works of art, ' maps, and compilations- plainly dispense with any such high standard, defendants are, in effect, attacking the constitutionality of those sections. But the very language of the Constitution differentiates (a) 'authors' and their 'writings' from (b) 'inventors' and their 'discoveries.' Those who penned the Constitution, 2 of course, knew the difference. The pre-revolutionary English statutes had made the distinction. 3 In 1783, the Continental Congress had passed a resolution recommending that the several states enact legislation

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to 'secure' to authors the 'copyright' of their books. 4 Twelve of the thirteen states (in 1783-1786) enacted such statutes. 5 Those of Connecticut and North Carolina covered books, pamphlets, maps, and charts. 6

Moreover, in 1790, in the year after the adoption of the Constitution, the first Congress enacted two statutes, separately dealing with patents and copyrights. The patent statute, enacted April 10, 1790, 1 Stat. 109, provided that patents should issue only if the Secretary of State, Secretary of War and the Attorney General, or any two of them 'shall deem the invention or discovery sufficiently useful and important'; the applicant for a patent was obliged to file a specification 'so particular' as 'to distinguish the invention or discovery from other things before known and used * * * '; the patent was to constitute prima facie evidence that the patentee was 'the first and true inventor or * * * discoverer * * * of the thing so specified.' 7 The Copyright Act, enacted May 31, 1790, 1 Stat. 124, covered 'maps, charts, and books'. A printed copy of the title of any map, chart or book was to be recorded in the Clerk's office of the District Court, and a copy of the map, chart or book was to be delivered to the Secretary of State within six months after publication. Twelve years later, Congress in 1802, 2 Stat. 171, added, to matters that might be copyrighted, engravings, etchings and prints.

Thus legislators peculiarly familiar with the purpose of the Constitutional grant by statute, imposed far less exacting standards in the case of copyrights. They authorized the copyrighting of a mere map which, patently, calls for no considerable uniqueness. They exacted far more from an inventor. And, while they demanded that an official should be satisfied as to the character of an invention before a patent issued, they made no such demand in respect of a copyright. In 1884, in Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53, 57, 4 S.Ct. 279, 28 L.Ed. 349, the Supreme Court, adverting to these facts said: 'The construction placed upon the constitution by the first act of 1790 and the act of 1802, by the men who were contemporary with its formation, many of whom were members of the convention which framed it, is of itself entitled to very great weight, and when it is remembered that the rights thus established have not been disputed during a period of nearly a century, it is almost conclusive.' Accordingly, the Constitution, as so interpreted,

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recognizes that the standards for patents and copyrights are basically different.

The defendants' contention apparently results from the ambiguity of the word 'original'. It may mean startling, novel or unusual, a marked departure from the past. Obviously this is not what is meant when one speaks of 'the original package, ' or the 'original bill, ' or (in connection with the 'best evidence' rule) an 'original' document; none of those things is highly unusual in creativeness. 'Original' in reference to a copyrighted work means that the particular work 'owes its origin' to the 'author.' 8 No large measure of novelty is necessary. Said the Supreme Court in Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99, 102-103, 25 L.Ed. 841: 'The copyright of the book, if not pirated from other works, would be valid without regard to the novelty, or want of novelty, of its subject-matter. The novelty of the art or thing described or explained has nothing to do with the validity of the copyright. To give to the author of the book an exclusive property in the art described therein, when no examination of its novelty has ever been officially made, would be a surprise and a fraud upon the public. That is the province of letters-patent, not of copyright. The claim to an invention or discovery of an art or manufacture must be subjected to the examination of the Patent Office before an exclusive right therein can be obtained; and it can only be secured by a patent from the government. The difference between the two things, letters-patent and copyright, may be illustrated by reference to the subjects just enumerated. Take the case of medicines. Certain mixtures are found to be of great value in the healing art. If the discoverer writes and publishes a book on the subject (as regular physicians generally do), he gains no exclusive right to the manufacture and sale of the medicine; he gives that to the public. If he desires to acquire such exclusive right, he must obtain a patent for the mixture as a new art, manufacture, or composition of matter. He may copyright his book, if he pleases; but that only secures to him the exclusive right of printing and publishing his book. So of all other inventions or discoveries.'

In Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 188 U.S. 239, 250 252, 23 S.Ct. 298, 47 L.Ed. 460, the Supreme Court cited with approval Henderson v. Tompkins, C.C., 60 F. 758, where it was said, 60 F.at page 764: 'There is a very broad distinction between what is implied in the word 'author, ' found in the constitution, and the word 'inventor.' The latter carries an implication which excludes the results of only ordinary skill, while nothing of this is necessarily involved in the former. Indeed, the statutes themselves make broad distinctions on this point. So much as relates to copyrights * * * is expressed, so far as this particular is concerned, by the mere words, 'author, inventor, designer or proprietor, ' with such aid as may be derived from the words 'written, composed or made, ' * * * . But a multitude of books rest safely under copyright, which show only ordinary skill and diligence in their preparation. Compiliations are noticeable examples of this fact. With reference to this subject, the courts have not undertaken to assume the functions of critics, or to measure carefully the degree of originality, or literary skill or training involved.' 9

It is clear, then, that nothing in the Constitution commands that copyrighted matter be strikingly unique or novel. Accordingly, we were not ignoring the Constitution when we stated that a 'copy of something in the public domain' will support a copyright if it is a 'distinguishable variation'; 10 or when we rejected the contention that 'like a patent, a copyrighted work must be not only original, but new', adding, 'That is not * * * the law as is obvious in the case of maps or compendia, where later works will necessarily be anticipated.' 11 All that is needed

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to satisfy both the Constitution and the statute is that the 'author' contributed something more than a 'merely trivial' variation, something recognizably 'his own.' 12 Originality in this context 'means little more than a prohibition of actual copying.' 13 No matter how poor artistically the 'author's' addition, it is enough if it be his own. Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 188 U.S. 239, 250, 23 S.Ct. 298, 47 L.Ed. 460.

On that account, we have often distinguished between the limited protection accorded a copyright owner and the extensive protection granted a patent owner. So we have held that 'independent reproduction of a copyrighted * * * work is not infringement', 14 whereas it is vis a vis a patent. Correlative with the greater immunity of a patentee is the doctrine of anticipation which does not apply to copyrights: The alleged inventor is chargeable with full knowledge of all the prior art, although in fact he may be utterly ignorant of it. The 'author' is entitled to a copyright if he independently contrived a work completely identical with what went before; similarly, although he obtains a valid copyright, he has no right to prevent another from publishing a work identical with his, if not copied from his. A patentee, unlike a copyrightee, must not merely produce something 'original'; he must also be 'the first inventor or discoverer.' 15'Hence it is possible to have a plurality of valid copyrights directed to closely identical or even...

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