Business Law & Compliance


6 famous copyright cases

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Famous copyright infringement cases

Some of the biggest copyright infringement cases have been between some of the most well-known companies in the world, including the copyright court cases listed below.

1. Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica

Perhaps the most famous case of copyright infringement is that of Battlestar Galactica, who apparently ‘borrowed’ a little too much from Star Wars.

Galactica was produced in the wake of the success of the 1977 film Star Wars. And sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle, starring on a guest panel in This Week in Teck (episode 223), explains that “20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios (the studio behind Battlestar Galactica) for copyright infringement, claiming that it had stolen 34 distinct ideas from Star Wars.” Among them was a character named Skyler, a tad too close to Skywalker, and the possibility of airing with the title “Star Worlds”.

Universal Studios didn’t take this news lightly. “I agreed not to use certain effects including laser streaks from our guns,” said Galactica creator Glen Larson, who supposedly met producer Gary Kurtz to figure things out. “I always consider [the case] very unfair because we had met… and they were in agreement not to take any action.”

Furthermore, they “promptly countersued, claiming Star Wars had stolen ideas from the 1972 film Silent Running (the robot drones) and the Buck Rogers serials of the 1940s,” said Pournelle. He goes on to say that after Fox was sued, he was paid $20,000 by Universal to show that Battlestar Gallactica and Star Wars were made from two different cloths.

In the end the case was decided in favour of Galactica two years later. Unfortunately, however, the original Battlestar Galactic” had been cancelled and cinemas were looking forward to seeing The Empire Strikes Back.

2. Apple vs Microsoft

The battle between these tech giants started with a simple question: who invented the graphical user interface (GUI)? The company that controls the interface of the next major operating system will have the ability to set the standards for application software, so it’s unsurprising that Apple tried to stop Windows from becoming a major operating system.

It seemed that although Microsoft helped develop Macintosh, Jean-Louis Gassée, who had taken over from Steve Jobs at the time, refused to allow Microsoft to use their software. Bill Gates pressed on nonetheless, deciding to add in features of its own to early prototypes of the Macintosh.

When Gassée noted the software, he was enraged. However, he didn’t want a lawsuit, and ended up agreeing to license the Mac’s visual displays. But Windows 2.0 turned out to be almost identical, and Gassée believed it to be a breach of contract, only having allowed their software to be used for 1.0 and not future versions.

So, without warning, Apple filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in 1988. Apple’s case included 189 contested visual displays that violated its copyright. This led to a six-year long battle.

In 1989, the court ruled that 179 of the 189 disputed displays were covered by the existing license. Furthermore, the other ten were not violations of Apple’s copyright due to the merger doctrine, where the idea–expression divide limits the scope of copyright protection by differentiating an idea from the manifestation of that idea.

The copyright lawsuit was decided in Microsoft’s favor on August 24, 1993.

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