On November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. At the exact time of the murder, Abraham Zapruder, who happened to be filming a home video, documented photographic evidence of the assassination on his camera. A few days after, “Life” magazine, a publication of Time Incorporated, purchased the rights to the film, and parts of the film were then published in several issues of the magazine. In his book “Six Seconds in Dallas,” Josiah Thompson utilized “sketches” of the Zapruder film, which were later declared as clear copies, to enhance his study of Kennedy’s assassination. In response to the book’s publication, Time Incorporated filed a complaint against Thompson and his publisher, alleging the film was “stolen surreptitiously” and the defendants use of “copies of the frames” was “an infringement of statutory copyrights, an unfair trade practice, and unfair competition.”
In response to a motion by Time Incorporated for summary judgment, the district judge evaluated whether or not Thompson’s use of the film shots constituted a fair use. The judge notes that Life properly registered the film with the copyright office and stated that Thompson’s book “relie[d] heavily on the Zapruder pictures.” At a first question to be answered, the judge considered whether or not there was a valid copyright in the Zapruder pictures. The judge evaluated the plaintiff’s assertion that the pictures were simply records of what took place and that “news could not be copyrighted.” Evaluating past precedents, the judge stated “any photograph may claim the necessary originality to support a copyright claim merely by virtue of the photographers’ personal choice of subject matter, angle of photograph… and the…time it was taken.” Next, the judge evaluated whether or not the use of the pictures constituted a “fair use.” The judge declared that there was “a public interest in having the fullest information available on the murder of President Kennedy. Thompson did serious work on the subject and has a theory entitled to public consideration.” Further, the judge proclaimed that the book “was not bought because it contained the Zapruder pictures” but because of the “theory of Thompson and its explanation is supported by the pictures” and that there was no injury to Time Incorporated because there was “no competition.” For these reasons, the judge granted summary judgment for the defendants as the use was deemed a fair use.
This decision is vital for my research paper, as it discusses the fact that all pictures can qualify for the originality needed for copyright and that “serious work” and a “theory” in association with a copyrighted photo can constitute fair use. For one, Hilton cannot claim that a paparazzo’s photograph lacks originality, and therefore cannot be copyrighted, because the photographer, among other things, personally chose “the subject matter.” Furthermore, it exposes the fact Hilton cannot claim fair use in cases where he publishes newsworthy photographs because he simply states what is in the photograph, rather than imparting a theory or adding anything transformative. Individuals go to Hilton’s website to see the photographs, not to see Hilton’s obvious explanation of them. As opposed to this case, where Time Incorporated and Thompson operated in different markets, Hilton and the copyright holder are in direct competition, as Hilton greatly reduces the value of copyrighted work because the pictures are exhibited in whole on his website.