Mitchell Bros. Film Group v. Cinema Adult Theater, 604 F.2d 852 (1979) p.268
Copyrightable material - government works (generally NOT copyrightable)
Owners of properly registered copyright on motion picture brought infringement suit. Alleged infringers asserted as an affirmative defense that the movie was obscene and that, therefore, under equitable rubric of "unclean hands" owners were barred from relief.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Robert M. Hill, J., entered judgment for alleged infringers, and owners appealed.
1. Whether the COpyright Statute allowed the inference that COngress intended that obscene materials could not be copyrighted
2. Whether the Copyright Act, in allowing copyright of obscene material, was constitutional. 3. Whether the courts should take it upon themselves to permit the defense of obscenity in copyright infringement cases.
The Copyright Statute does not allow the inference that obscene materials should not be copyrighted. As long as it is an original work of authorship, the material is copyrightable and it is not the Court's place to judge the nature of the authorship (i.e. whether the material is obscene or not).
The Court of Appeals, Godbold, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) copyright statute contains no explicit or implicit bar to copyrighting obscene materials and provides for a copyright of all creative works, obscene or nonobscene, that otherwise meet requirements of Copyright Act; (2) protection of all writings, without regard to their content, is a constitutionally permissible means of promoting science and useful arts under Congress' copyright power; and (3) obscenity is not an appropriate defense in an infringement action, whether piggybacked on an "unclean hands" rubric or introduced in some other manner. Reversed and remanded.
Motion pictures are "writings" under the Copyright Act. Copyright statute contains no explicit or implicit bar to copyrighting obscene materials, and provides for copyright of all creative works, obscene or nonobscene, that otherwise meet requirements of Copyright Act. 17. It is inappropriate for a court, in the absence of some guidance or authorization from the legislature, to interpose its moral views between an author and his willing audience with respect to copyrightability of work. Theory that a person can have no property in obscene works is not and should not be adopted for purposes of copyrightability of works. Obscenity is not an appropriate defense in a copyright infringement action, whether piggybacked on "unclean hands" rubric or introduced in some other manner. Alleged wrongdoing of plaintiff does not bar relief under unclean hands rubric unless defendant can show that he has personally been injured by plaintiff's conduct.