464 U.S. 417 (1984), 81-1687, Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 81-1687.
Citation:464 U.S. 417, 104 S.Ct. 774, 78 L.Ed.2d 574
Party Name:SONY CORPORATION OF AMERICA, et al., Petitioners v. UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS, INC., etc., et al.
Case Date:January 17, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 417

464 U.S. 417 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 774, 78 L.Ed.2d 574




No. 81-1687.

United States Supreme Court.

Jan. 17, 1984

Argued Jan. 18, 1983.

Reargued Oct. 3, 1983.

Rehearing Denied March 19, 1984. See U.S., 104 S.Ct. 1619.

[104 S.Ct. 776] Syllabus[*]


Petitioner Sony Corp. manufactures home video tape recorders (VTR's), and markets them through retail establishments, some of which are also petitioners. Respondents own the copyrights on some of the television programs that are broadcast on the public airwaves. Respondents brought an action against petitioners in Federal District Court, alleging that VTR consumers had been recording some of respondents' copyrighted works that had been exhibited on commercially sponsored television and thereby infringed respondents' copyrights, and further that petitioners were liable for such copyright infringement because of their marketing of the VTR's. Respondents sought money damages, an equitable accounting of profits, and an injunction against the manufacture and marketing of the VTR's. The District Court denied respondents all relief, holding that noncommercial home use recording of material broadcast over the public airwaves was a fair use of copyrighted works and did not constitute copyright infringement, and that petitioners could not be held liable as contributory infringers even if the home use of a VTR was considered an infringing use. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding petitioners liable for contributory infringement and ordering the District Court to fashion appropriate relief.

Held: The sale of the VTR's to the general public does not constitute contributory infringement of respondents' copyrights. Pp. 782 - 796.

(a) The protection given to copyrights is wholly statutory, and, in a case like this, in which Congress has not plainly marked the course to be followed by the judiciary, this Court must be circumspect in construing the scope of rights created by a statute that never contemplated such a calculus of interests. Any individual may reproduce a copyrighted work for a "fair use"; the copyright owner does not possess the exclusive right to such a use. Pp. 782 - 785.

(b) Kalem Co. v. Harper Brothers, 222 U.S. 55, 32 S.Ct. 20, 56 L.Ed. 92, does not support respondents' novel theory that supplying the "means" to accomplish an infringing activity and encouraging that activity through advertisement are sufficient to establish liability for copyright infringement. This case does not fall in the category of those in which it is manifestly just to

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[104 S.Ct. 777] impose vicarious liability because the "contributory" infringer was in a position to control the use of copyrighted works by others and had authorized the use without permission from the copyright owner. Here, the only contact between petitioners and the users of the VTR's occurred at the moment of sale. And there is no precedent for imposing vicarious liability on the theory that petitioners sold the VTR's with constructive knowledge that their customers might use the equipment to make unauthorized copies of copyrighted material. The sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other articles of commerce, does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes, or, indeed, is merely capable of substantial noninfringing uses. Pp. 785 - 788.

(c) The record and the District Court's findings show (1) that there is a significant likelihood that substantial numbers of copyright holders who license their works for broadcast on free television would not object to having their broadcast time-shifted by private viewers (i.e., recorded at a time when the VTR owner cannot view the broadcast so that it can be watched at a later time); and (2) that there is no likelihood that time-shifting would cause nonminimal harm to the potential market for, or the value of, respondents' copyrighted works. The VTR's are therefore capable of substantial noninfringing uses. Private, noncommercial time-shifting in the home satisfies this standard of noninfringing uses both because respondents have no right to prevent other copyright holders from authorizing such time-shifting for their programs, and because the District Court's findings reveal that even the unauthorized home time-shifting of respondents' programs is legitimate fair use. Pp. 789 - 795.

659 F.2d 963, reversed.


Dean C. Dunlavey reargued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Donald E. Sloan and Marshall Rutter.

Stephen A. Kroft reargued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Sondra E. Berchin.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Virginia Citizens' Consumer Council, Inc., et al. by William A. Dobrovir; for the American Library Association by Newton N. Minow; for the Consumer Electronics Group byJ. Edward Day; for the Educators Ad Hoc Committee on Copyright Law by Michael H. Cardozo, August W. Steinhilber, and Gwendolyn H. Gregory; for General Electric Co. et al. by Alfred B. Engelberg, Morton Amster, Jesse Rothstein, andJoel E. Lutzker; for Hitachi, Ltd., et al. by John W. Armagost and Craig B. Jorgensen; for McCann-Erickson, Inc., et al. by John A. Donovan, A. Howard Matz, and David Fleischer; for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. et. al. by Sidney A. Diamond and Grier Curran Raclin; for the National Retail Merchants Association by Peter R. Stern, Theodore S. Steingut, and Robert A. Weiner; for Sanyo Electric, Inc., by Anthony Liebig; for Sears, Roebuck and Co. by Max L. Gillam and Mary E. Woytek; for TDK Electronics Co., Ltd., by Ko-Yung Tung and Adam Yarmolinsky; for Toshiba Corp. et al. by Donald J. Zoeller and Herve Gouraige; for Pfizer Inc. by Steven C. Kany; and for Viare Publishing by Peter F. Marvin.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Association of American Publishers, Inc., et al. by Charles H. Lieb and Jon A. Baumgarten; for the Authors League of America, Inc., by Irwin Karp; for CBS Inc. by Lloyd N. Cutler, Louis R. Cohen, and George Vradenburg III; for Creators and Distributors of Programs by Stuart Robinowitz and Andrew J. Peck; for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO, by Leo Geffner; for the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., by Richard M. Cooper, Ellen S. Huvelle, and William Nix; for the National Music Publishers' Association, Inc., by Jon A. Baumgarten; for the Recording Industry Association of America, Inc., by James F. Fitzpatrick, Cary H. Sherman, and Ernest S. Meyers; for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Inc., by I. Fred Koenigsberg; and for the Writers Guild of America, West, Inc., et al. by Paul P. Selvin, Jerome B. Lurie, and Paul S. Berger.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the State of Missouri et al. by John Ashcroft, Attorney General of Missouri, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Charles A. Graddick of Alabama, John Steven Clark of Arkansas, Michael J. Bowers of Georgia, Tany S. Hong of Hawaii, Tyrone C. Fahner of Illinois, Thomas J. Miller of Iowa, William J. Guste, Jr., of Louisiana, William A. Allain of Mississippi, Michael T. Greely of Montana,Rufus L. Edmisten of North Carolina, William J. Brown of Ohio, Jan Eric Cartwright of Oklahoma, Dennis J. Roberts II of Rhode Island, John J. Easton of Vermont, Gerald L. Baliles of Virginia, and Bronson C. La Follette of Wisconsin; and for the Committee on Copyright and Literary Property of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York by Michael S. Oberman and David H. Marks.

Dean C. Dunlavey, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioners.

Stephen A. Kroft, Beverly Hills, Cal., for respondents.


Page 419

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners manufacture and sell home video tape recorders. Respondents own the copyrights on some of the television

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programs that are broadcast on the public airwaves. Some members of the general public use video tape recorders sold by petitioners to record some of these broadcasts, as well as a large number of other broadcasts. The question presented is whether the sale of petitioners' copying equipment to the general public violates any of the rights conferred upon respondents by the Copyright Act.

Respondents commenced this copyright infringement action against petitioners in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in 1976. Respondents alleged that some individuals had used Betamax video tape recorders (VTR's) to record some of respondents' copyrighted works which had been exhibited on commercially sponsored television and contended that these individuals had thereby infringed respondents' copyrights. Respondents further maintained that petitioners were liable for the copyright infringement allegedly committed by Betamax consumers because of petitioners' marketing of the Betamax VTR's. 1 Respondents sought no relief against any Betamax consumer. Instead, they sought money damages and an equitable accounting of profits from petitioners, as well as an injunction against the manufacture and marketing of Betamax VTR's.

After a lengthy trial, the District Court denied respondents all the relief they sought and entered judgment for petitioners. 480 F.Supp. 429 (1979). The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's judgment on respondent's copyright claim, holding [104 S.Ct. 778] petitioners liable for contributory infringement and ordering the District Court to fashion appropriate relief. 659 F.2d 963

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(1981). We granted certiorari, 457 U.S. 1116, 102 S.Ct. 2926, 73 L.Ed.2d 1328 (1982); since we had not completed our study of the case last Term, we ordered reargument, 463...

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