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Law [Copyrighted writings can be used in critical biography...]

Title: Law [Copyrighted writings can be used in critical biography...]
Date: Friday, 25 May 1990
Publisher: Wall Street Journal
Authors: Wade Lambert, Edward Felsenthal
Main source: link (99 KiB)

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COPYRIGHTED WRITINGS can be used in critical biography, court rules.

A federal appeals court in New York reversed a lower court ruling that appeared to signify tighter restrictions on the use of copyrighted materials by authors and journalists.

The appeals court ruled that Carol Publishing Group's critical biography of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, doesn't violate federal law by including copyrighted quotations from Mr. Hubbard's published writings.

The plaintiff was New Era Publications International, a Copenhagen publisher of Scientology books which holds the license on all of Mr. Hubbard's works. Mr. Hubbard died in 1986.

Coming after a series of decisions in New York federal courts that placed copyright concerns ahead of free-press interests, the opinion seems to reflect a broader interpretation of what constitutes fair use of copyrighted materials. The decision "reaffirms the vitality of the fair-use doctrine where material is being used for journalistic scholarly purposes," said Melvin Wulf, a laywer with the New York law firm Beldock Levine & Hoffman, which represented Carol Publishing.

The court's opinion relies in part on the fact that Mr. Hubbard's works had already been published. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted copyright protection to unpublished works. And in a much publicized 1986 case, the New York appeals court created a strong presumption against the use of unpublished works when it forbade a biography of J.D. Salinger to quote from unpublished letters.

New Era Publications hasn't decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, says its lawyer, Michael Hertzberg of Rabinowitz, Houdin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman in New York.