Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group

Facts: Plaintiff Castle Rock is the producer and copyright owner of the Seinfeld televisions series. Defendant Carol Publishing is the publisher of The Seinfeld Aptitude Test (The SAT), a book containing trivia questions and answers about Seinfeld. Every question and correct answer has its source from a fictional moment in the show. The name “Seinfeld” appears on the front and back covers of The SAT, and pictures of the principal characters are on the cover and within the book. The writer of The SAT created the book by taking notes while watching Seinfeld at the time it was aired, and as recorded by her or her friends. Castle Rock has been selective in marketing products associated with the show, rejecting numerous proposals from publishers seeking approval for varying products related to the show. Castle Rock has licensed one Seinfeld book and one CD-ROM, the CD-ROM allegedly might include a trivia bank.

Procedural History: The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, denied defendant’s cross motion for summary judgment, and awarded Castle Rock $403,000 for copyright infringement. The district court also enjoined the defendants from publishing The SAT.

Issues: 1. Whether The SAT takes sufficient protected expression from the original such that in the absence of any defenses the book would infringe the copyright in Seinfeld. 2. Whether The SAT constitutes fair use of the Seinfeld television series.

Holding: The SAT unlawfully copies form Seinfeld and that its copying does not constitute fair use. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

Reasoning: The court begins by deciding if there’s copyright infringement by laying out the two part test used in analyzing copyright infringement. First, a plaintiff must show that his work was actually copied, and next he must show that the copying amounts to an improper or unlawful appropriation. The court points out that it’s undisputed the work was copied because the writer of The SAT admitted she copied from the show. Next as to deciding whether the copying is unlawful appropriation, the court looks to see if the copying is quantitatively and qualitatively sufficient to support infringement occurred. As to the quantitative element, the court concludes that The SAT crossed the de minimis threshold by copying not a few but 643 fragments from the television series. For the qualitative element the court finds that The SAT copies creative expressions, and the alleged “facts” that are coped are really fictitious expressions created by the Seinfeld authors.
The defendants claim that even if copying Seinfeld constitutes copyright infringement, The SAT is still a fair use of the show. The court says to determine whether the use made of a work is fair use, four factors must be considered: 1) the purpose and character of the use, 2) the nature of the copyrighted work, 3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and 4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. First, the court finds that The SAT’s use is commercial and this weighs against a finding of fair use. Also The SAT’s transformative purpose is too slight and non-existent. Next, the fictional nature of the copyrighted work remains significant, where the secondary use is at best minimally transformative thus the second factors favors the plaintiff. Thirdly, in deciding about the amount and substantiality of the portion of the copyrighted work used, the question must focus on whether the extent of the copying is consistent with or more than necessary to further the purpose and character of the use. The court finds that The SAT does not serve a critical or otherwise transformative purpose. Finally, as to the effect of the use upon the potential market, Seinfeld’s audience grew after the publication of The SAT, and Castle Rock has evidenced no interest in publishing Seinfeld trivia quiz books and only minimal interest in publishing Seinfeld related books, thus the fourth factor also falls to the plaintiff.
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