A.A. Hoehling v. Universal City Studios, Inc.
618 F.2d 972 (2d Cir. 1980)
Hoehling was a historian who
researched the Hindenberg disaster. He published a book (based on several
other sources) that blamed the disaster on the work of a saboteur.
Later, a fiction writer named
Mooney wrote a novel about the disaster that featured a plot and
characters similar to Hoehling's research. It was later turned into a
Mooeny admitted that he used
Hoehling's book as a source for his novel. However, he changed the names
of the people and deviated from historical fact on a number of occasions.
Hoehling sued Mooney and
Universal City for copyright infringement.
Hoehling argued that Mooney
copied the essential plot of his book.
Mooney argued that a plot is
an idea, and ideas and not copyrightable as a matter of law. In
addition, Mooney argued that historical facts are not copyrightable.
Since the historical facts
were somewhat unclear, Hoeling argued that his interpretation of the facts was original and therefore copyrightable under 17
The Trial Court found for
Mooney. Hoehling appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found that
Hoehling's allegations encompassed material that is non-copyrightable
The Court found that in
works devoted to historical subjects, a second author may make
significant use of a prior work, so long as they do not bodily
appropriate the expression of the original.
There is a public policy
reason for allowing many people to research and produce accounts of
historical events. On the other hand, if a person can't get protection
for all their hard work, that would inhibit people from producing