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 movie.
    • 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 U.S.C. 102(a).
  • 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 (historical facts).
    • 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 accounts.