Warner Brothers, Inc. v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

654 F.2d 204 (1981)

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Warner Brothers, Inc. v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
654 F.2d 204 (1981)

Facts

Warner Brothers, Inc. (plaintiff) owned copyrights and other rights in the character Superman and everything associated with the character. Warner Brothers enjoyed remarkable commercial success from these rights for a long time. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC) (defendant) was scheduled to premiere a television show called Hero. The show has an extensive list of similarities between it and Superman. For example, both Superman and the superhero in Hero were depicted performing feats of superhuman strength; both lifted a car with one hand, although they differed in how they lifted the car; both wore tight body garb; both flew with their hands extended in front of them and a cape billowing behind them; both were bulletproof; and the pattern of scenes, sequence of incidents, and general theme of the two works were substantially similar. However, the two hero characters also differed significantly from each other. For example, the character in Hero derived his power exclusively from the magic of the suit, whereas Superman’s strength was a natural attribute of his extraterrestrial physical makeup. Superman’s strength was also controlled, while that of the character in Hero was not. Focusing on the similarities between the characters, Warner Brothers filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief two days before ABC was to premiere the Hero television pilot. The presiding judge found that the parties’ works were not substantially similar and that even if they were, Hero was a parody of Superman and therefore protected under the fair-use doctrine. ABC was therefore allowed to televise the premiere. Warner Brothers appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Meskill, J.)

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