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Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984) p.667


fair use


Universal Studios was broadcasting TV shows. One alleged infringement was that the home viewer would record a broadcast and then view it later. Second illicit infringement was the contrinutory infringement by Sony which was making the equipment which would allow the viewer to record the broadcast.


The District Court held that the use was a fair use. The Court of Appeals reversed.


Plaintiffs alleged that home videotaping of their programs constituted an infringement of copyright, and that Sony was liable as a contributory infringer.


The sale of copying equipment does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes. It merely be capable of non-infringing uses.


We must conclude that this record supports the District Court's conclusion that home time-shifting is fair use. It is clear that the COurt of Appeals erred in holding that the statute as presently written bars such conduct.


Four factors:

  1. Purpose and character of use: was this a commercial use? Court said that the use was noncommercial, non profit oriented. Was only for personal convenience and enrichment.
  2. nature of copying - transformative - none simply copied
  3. amount/substance of copying - the entire work was used; whether the effect of the use is to usurp and exploit the commercial benefits for the author and owner of the copyright to create mroe expressive work for the public good; no actual harm proven; potential harm discussed - ratings, decreased value to advertisers (majority said no decreased value to advertisers; dissent said advertisers might demand live ratings); might be a potential decrease for the audience for reruns (majority said this not important); bottom line is whether the studio is to bear the risk of the future potential harm or not
  4. once you determine that the copy is for not commercial use, the burden shifts to the copyright holder to show a negative effect on the potential value in the market place; this use is not for commercial use and respondents failed to carry their burden


Interesting to note that the intended use of the TV shows is by the very person that is the alleged infringer. Not like other cases where the user is taking the copy for a commercial use or the infringer is not the intended audience of the work.

fourth factor - if a commercial use, then the burden is on the infringer to show that there is no substantial negative effect on the potential market

dissent said the use is non-transformative, and therefore the use is not adding anything to the public, and the use should only be limited to transformative works

Created on: Tuesday, October 26, 1999 at 19:13:19 (PDT)

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