Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003)

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OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

DASTAR CORP. v. TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORP. et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 02-428. Argued April 2, 2003—Decided June 2, 2003

General Dwight D. Eisenhower's World War II book, Crusade in Europe, was published by Doubleday, which registered the work's copyright and granted exclusive television rights to an affiliate of respondent Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (Fox). Fox, in turn, arranged for Time, Inc., to produce a Crusade in Europe television series based on the book, and Time assigned its copyright in the series to Fox. The series was first broadcast in 1949. In 1975, Doubleday renewed the book's copyright, but Fox never renewed the copyright on the television series, which expired in 1977, leaving the series in the public domain. In 1988, Fox reacquired the television rights in the book, including the exclusive right to distribute the Crusade television series on video and to sublicense others to do so. Respondents SFM Entertainment and New Line Home Video, Inc., acquired from Fox the exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute Crusade on video. In 1995, petitioner Dastar released a video set, World War II Campaigns in Europe, which it made from tapes of the original version of the Crusade television series and sold as its own product for substantially less than New Line's video set. Fox, SFM, and New Line brought this action alleging, inter alia, that Dastar's sale of Campaigns without proper credit to the Crusade television series constitutes "reverse passing off" in violation of 43(a) of the Lanham Act. The District Court granted respondents summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in relevant part, holding, among other things, that because Dastar copied substantially the entire Crusade series, labeled the resulting product with a different name, and marketed it without attribution to Fox, Dastar had committed a "bodily appropriation" of Fox's series, which was sufficient to establish the reverse passing off.

Held: Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act does not prevent the unaccredited copying of an uncopyrighted work. Pp. 28-38.

(a) Respondents' claim that Dastar has made a "false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which . . . is likely to cause confusion . . . as to the origin . . . of [its] goods" in violation of 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U. S. C. 1125(a), would undoubtedly be sustained if Dastar had bought

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