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Gaste v. Kaiserman

863 F.2d 1061 (1988)

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Gaste v. Kaiserman

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

863 F.2d 1061 (1988)

Facts

Louis Gaste (plaintiff) composed the music to the song “Pour Toi” in 1956. The song was part of the score to a French movie. Gaste registered the sheet music for the song with the United States Copyright Office. Neither the song nor the movie was commercially successful. In 1973, Morris Kaiserman (defendant), who was professionally known as Morris Albert, recorded the song “Feelings” with lyrics written by Kaiserman. Kaiserman’s song was successful, earning gold records in a number of countries. Gaste sued Kaiserman, alleging that the song infringed on Gaste’s copyright. Gaste alleged that Kaiserman obtained access to Gaste’s song through Kaiserman’s publisher, Fermata International Melodies, Inc. (defendant). During the trial, conflicting evidence was submitted regarding the value of the lyrics versus the music. In some cases, the value had been determined to be 50 percent to each component. However, there were cases in which the value of the lyrics was set as low as 15 percent. Also, a French version of Kaiserman’s song, with different lyrics, was successful. The evidence was not clear whether the French song’s success resulted from good lyrics or from good music independent of the lyrics. After trial, the jury awarded Gaste damages of $268,000 from Fermata and $233,000 from Kaiserman. These damages awards represented approximately 80 percent of the revenue received by Fermata and 88 percent of the revenue received by Kaiserman. Fermata appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Newman, J.)

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