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American Tobacco Co. v. Werckmeister

207 U.S. 284 (1907)

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American Tobacco Co. v. Werckmeister

United States Supreme Court

207 U.S. 284 (1907)

Facts

In 1894, W. Dendy Sadler, a painter, displayed his painting (the painting) at an art exhibition that lasted about three weeks and was attended by paying members of the public and members of the organization that hosted the exhibition. During the exhibition, no copyright inscription was displayed on the painting or its frame. However, the painting was for sale, and the sale book included bylaws that prohibited copying of exhibited works. Furthermore, officers had been posted around the exhibition to ensure that no copying occurred. Sadler subsequently transferred the copyright in the painting to Werckmeister (plaintiff). In 1902, Werckmeister filed suit against American Tobacco Company (defendant) for copyright infringement and for the return of over 1,100 copies of the painting in American Tobacco’s possession. American Tobacco argued that the prior public exhibition of the painting constituted a general publication, which served to place the painting within the public domain. The district court held in Werckmeister’s favor, and the Second Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Day, J.)

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