Teleprompter Corporation v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

PETITIONER: Teleprompter Corporation
RESPONDENT: Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.
LOCATION: Bureau of Indian Affairs

DOCKET NO.: 72-1628
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 415 US 394 (1974)
ARGUED: Jan 07, 1974
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Asa D. Sokolow - for respondents in No. 72—1628 and petitioners in No. 72—1633
Robert C. Barnard - for petitioners in No. 72—1628 and for respondents in No. 72—1633
Seymour Graubard - for respondents in No. 72—1628 and petitioners in No. 72—1633

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Teleprompter Corporation v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 07, 1974 in Teleprompter Corporation v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 04, 1974 in Teleprompter Corporation v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.

The disposition in 72-1628 and 1633, Teleprompter Corp. against CBS and CBS against Teleprompter will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

These cross petitions from the same judgment are here by a way of writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The plaintiffs in this litigation are creators and producers of televised programs, copyrighted under the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1909 as amended.

They commenced this litigation in 1964 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming that the defendants had infringed their copyrights by intercepting broadcast transmissions of copyrighted material and rechanneling these programs through various community antenna television systems to the paying subscribers.

Systems such as these are commonly known as CATV systems.

The suit was initially stayed by agreement of the parties pending this Court’s decision in the case called Fortnightly Corporation against the United Artists Television Corporation, reported in volume 392 of the United States Reports.

In that case, decided in 1968, we held that the reception and distribution of television broadcasts by the CATV systems, there involved, did not constitute a performance within the meaning of the Copyright Act and, thus, did not amount to copyright infringement.

After that decision the plaintiffs in the present litigation filed supplemental pleadings in which they sought to distinguish the five CATV systems, challenged here, from those whose operations had been found not to constitute copyright infringement in the Fortnightly case.

The District Court subsequently dismissed the complaint on the ground that the plaintiffs’ cause of action was barred by the Fortnightly decision.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the District Court for further proceedings.

Both the plaintiffs and the defendants petitioned for certiorari, and because of the seemingly important questions of federal law involved, we granted both petitions.

For the reasons set out in detail in a written opinion filed today, we have concluded that the District Court was correct in holding that the plaintiff’s complaint was barred by this Court’s Fortnightly decision.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part and these cases are remanded to the District Court with directions to reinstate its original judgment.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion which the Chief Justice has joined and Mr. Justice Blackmun has also filed a dissenting opinion.