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

  • General Eisenhower wrote a book about his experiences in WWII. The book was published by Doubleday, and Fox bought the rights to turn it into a tv miniseries, which they broadcast.
    • Doubleday renewed the copyright to the book, but Fox allowed the copyright on the tv miniseries to expire, and it entered the public domain.
  • Dastar obtained a copy of the tv miniseries. They re-edited the episodes, change the titles, removed Fox's credits, and added their own credits. Then they sold videotapes of the edited episodes.
  • Fox sued for copyright infringement.
    • Dastar argued that the tv miniseries was in the public domain, so Fox had no rights to control what happened to it.
    • Fox argued that when Dastar released copies without proper credit, that couldn't as "reverse passing off" and violated the Latham Act (15 U.S.C. 1125(a)), which prevents someone from making a representation of a product that, even though technically true, creates a false impression of the product's origin.
  • The Trial Court found for Fox. Dastar appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Dastar appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Latham Act only referred to physical goods themselves, not to the 'idea' of goods.
      • Basically, you can't physically rip the cover off of a book and add your own cover to it, but you can republish a work in the public domain without giving credit to the original author.
    • The Court found that Fox's argument would imply that the Latham Act gave copyright holders an interest in their work that lasted forever. That violated the Constitutional provision that copyrights and patents could only be for a limited time.
      • See the Intellectual Property Clause (Art. 1, 8, cl. 8).