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Baxter v. MCA, Inc.
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
812 F.2d 421 (1987)
Leslie Baxter (plaintiff) composed a collection of songs meant to represent certain emotions. One of the songs recorded was entitled “Joy.” John Williams (defendant) was a successful music composer and conductor who was Baxter’s acquaintance. Williams was familiar with “Joy” and had even played piano during a public performance of the song. Years later, Williams composed the song “Theme” for the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Williams won the Academy Award for Best Original Music. Baxter filed suit for copyright infringement, alleging that “Theme” was largely copied from his copyrighted song “Joy.” Williams filed a motion for summary judgment, attaching a cassette tape of the songs, the sheet music for the songs, and the testimony of a music expert who explained the degree of similarity between the two compositions. The district court granted Williams’s motion for summary judgment, holding that, based on the court’s ear, substantial similarity of expression was totally lacking and could not be submitted to a jury. Baxter appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Tang, J.)
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