Gilliam v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
538 F.2d 14 (2d Cir. 1976)

  • Gilliam et. al. were the creators of a tv show called Monty Python. They sold the show to the BBC.
    • As part of their contract with BBC, BBC was not to make any significant edits to the tv show after it was recorded.
  • BBC broadcast the show, and then sold the rights to ABC. When ABC broadcast the show they made significant edits to make room for commercials.
    • The agreement between the BBC and ABC did not contain any caveats about making edits.
  • Gilliam et. al sued ABC to make them stop broadcasting the show.
    • Gilliam argued that ABC's edits impaired the integrity of the original work.
  • The Trial Court found for ABC. Gilliam appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that it wasn't clear Gilliam et. al. owned the copyright to the tv show, therefore they couldn't control what happened to it.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Gilliam et. al. were definitely the owners of the copyright to the script. Since the tv show was a derivative work based on the script, Gilliam et. al. had some rights to what happened to the tv show.
      • While BBC obtained the rights to the derivative work, they did not have any rights they did not obtain from Gilliam et. al. Since Gilliam did not give them the right to edit the work, they couldn't sell the right to edit the work to ABC.
    • The Appellate Court found that ABC had impaired the integrity of the work by making edits can cutting out key jokes. That was a violation of the Lanham 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.