Shostakovich v. Twentieth Century-Fox

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Shostakovich v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 80 N.Y.S.2d 575 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1948), aff'd, 87 N.Y.S.2d 430 (N.Y. App. Div. 1949), was a copyright lawsuit. In The Iron Curtain, a 1948 motion picture depicting Soviet espionage in Canada, Twentieth Century Fox used compositions by composers, who were citizens and residents of the Soviet Union as background music, and on the film credited these composers with the compositions. The name of one of the composers, Dmitri Shostakovich was also used in the picture when one of the characters therein incidentally referred to him in an appreciative manner. All of the music used was in the public domain and had no copyright protection, therefore the court refused to enjoin the use of the names and the music.

Furthermore, the use of the composers' names in conjunction with the compositions is not subject to restraint under the New York State civil rights law (§ 51). In the absence of copyright, others may use the names of the authors in copyrighting, publishing or compiling their works.

Assuming that the publication of defamatory matter may be enjoined, there was no showing that the composers have been slandered or libeled. There is furthermore no indication in the motion picture that the composers participated in or gave their approval or indorsement to the picture nor is their approval of it "necessarily implied" therein. No such implication exists, necessarily or otherwise, where the work of the composer is in the public domain and may be freely published, copied or compiled by others.

The case foreshadowed Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox over fifty years later.

(Source: public domain court decision.)