Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony
11 U.S. 53 (1884)

  • Sarony took a photograph of Oscar Wilde. Burrow-Giles made copies of the photo. Sarony sued Burrow-Giles for copyright infringement.
  • The Trial Court found for Sarony. Burrow-Giles appealed.
    • Burrow-Giles argued that the photograph could not be copyrighted because it was "not a writing nor the production of an author."
      • 17 U.S.C. 102(a) requires that a work be original.
      • Burrow-Giles argued that Sarony didn't produce anything. He merely reproduced the exact features of a natural object (namely Oscar Wilde).
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that a wide variety of things are subject to copyright, not just books.
      • Congress can authorize copyright in all forms of writing "by which the ideas of the mind of the author are given visible expression... so far as they are representative of original intellectual conceptions of the author."
    • The Court found that Sarony gave his "mental conception" form by posing Oscar Wilde, choosing the lighting, wardrobe, etc. All of that made the photograph the author's original work of art, even though the photograph was mechanically produced.