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    L. A. WESTERMANN CO. v. DISPATCH PRINTING CO. , 249 U.S. 100 (1919)

    U.S. Supreme Court

    L. A. WESTERMANN CO. v. DISPATCH PRINTING CO. , 249 U.S. 100 (1919)

    249 U.S. 100

    No. 50.

    Submitted Nov. 15, 1918.
    Decided March 3, 1919.

    [249 U.S. 100, 101]   Mr. Curtis C. Williams, of Columbus, Ohio, for petitioner.

    Messrs. Smith W. Bennett, of Columbus, Ohio, and Luther Day, of Cleveland, Ohio, for respondent.

    [249 U.S. 100, 102]  

    Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

    This was a bill for an injunction against future infringement of certain copyrights and to recover damages for past infringement. The injunction was granted and in this both parties acquiesced. In addition, the District Court found that there were seven cases of infringement and awarded $10 as nominal damages for each case-$70 in all. The plaintiff appealed, insisting that for each case it was entitled under the copyright law to an award of not less than $250. The Circuit Court of Appeals sustained that contention, but held that what the District Court regarded as seven cases was only one, and directed that the decree be modified by awarding $250, instead of $70, as damages. 233 Fed. 609, 147 C. C. A. 417. A writ of certiorari granted on the plaintiff's petition brings the matter here.

    Whether there were seven cases of infringement or only one, and whether the damages should have been assessed at not less than $250 for each case, are the questions to be considered. The facts bearing on the solution of these questions are as follows:

    The plaintiff designs and produces pictorial illustrations of styles in women's apparel and supplies the same to dealers in such apparel for use in advertising their [249 U.S. 100, 103]   goods. All the illustrations are separately copyrighted and all authorized copies carry the required copyright notice. The plaintiff grants exclusive licenses to use the illustrations for limited periods, each license being restricted to a particular locality. The dealer obtaining the license pays a fixed charge for it. Ordinarily the fact that the license is exclusive makes it attractive, serves as an incentive for paying the charge and is a helpful feature of the plaintiff's business. But when infringers use the illustrations the strength of that feature diminishes and the plaintiff's business suffers accordingly.

    At the time of the infringing acts in question the Moorehouse-Martens Company, a dealer at Columbus, Ohio, had an exclusive license from the plaintiff covering the use of the illustrations in that locality.

    The defendant publishes at Columbus a daily newspaper, each issue comprising as many as 30,000 copies widely circulated. Without the consent or authority of the plaintiff or its licensee the defendant reproduced and published in its newspaper six of the plaintiff's copyrighted illustrations. They were published separately, each in a distinct issue and in all the copies. Five were published once and the other one twice, the illustrations being used in each instance as part of an advertisement by some competitor in trade of the plaintiff's licensee. These two advertisements having the same illustration were by different advertisers and were separated by an interval of 26 days.

    The record, while showing that the plaintiff was damaged by the infringing publications, does not show the amount of the damages, a matter which is explained by undisputed testimony to the effect that the damages could not be estimated or stated 'in dollars and cents, or in money.' On this point the Circuit Court of Appeals aptly said:

    Whether the defendant made any profit from the publications does not appear. In its bill the plaintiff asked for what are termed statutory damages in lieu of actual damages and profits.

    The copyright statute, Act March 4, 1909, c. 320, 35 Stat. 1075 (Comp. St. 9517-9524, 9530-9584), gives to one who copyrights a pictorial illustration the exclusive right to print, reprint, publish, copy and vend the same (sections 1 and 5), and provides (section 251) that one who infringes 'the copyright in any work' so protected shall be liable, among other things--

    The statute says that the liability thus defined is imposed for infringing 'the copyright in any' copyrighted 'work.' The words are in the singular, not the plural. Each copyright is treated as a distinct entity, and the infringement of it as a distinct wrong to be redressed through the enforcement of this liability. Infringement of several copyrights is not put on the same level with infringement of one. One the contrary, the plain import of the statute is that this liability attaches in respect of each copyright that is infringed. Here six were infringed, each covering a different illustration. Thus there were at least six cases of infringment in the sense of the statute. Was there also another? The illustration covered by one of the copyrights was published on two separate occasions, each time in a different advertisement. There was no connection between the two advertisements other than the inclusion of the same illustration in both. Each was by a different advertiser and was published at his instance and for his benefit. The advertisers were not joint, but independent, infringers, neither having any connection with what was done by the other. By publishing their advertisements, the defendant participated in their independent infringements. In these circumstances, we think the second publication of the illustration must be regarded as another and distinct case of infringement. Whether it would be otherwise if that publication had [249 U.S. 100, 106]   been merely a continuation or repetition of the first, and what bearing the 'third' and 'fourth' subdivisions of section 25, before quoted, would have on the solution of that question, are matters which we have no occasion to consider now. They are mentioned only to show that no ruling thereon is intended.

    We conclude, as did the District Court, that there were seven cases of infringement in the sense of the statute.

    On the question of the amount of damages to be awarded for each case we are in accord with the Circuit Court of Appeals. Both parties recognize that under the proofs the damages must be assessed under the alternative provision requiring the infringer, in lieu of actual damages and profits, to pay such damages as to the court shall appear to be just, etc. The fact that these damages are to be 'in lieu of actual damages' shows that something other than actual damages is intended-that another measure is to be applied in making the assessment. There is no uncertainty as to what that measure is or as to its limitations. The statute says, first, that the damages are to be such as to the court shall appear to be just; next, that the court may, in its discretion, allow the amounts named in the appended schedule, and finally, that in no case shall they be more than $5, 000 nor less than $250, except that for a newspaper reproduction of a copyrighted photograph they shall not be more than $200 nor less than $50. In other words, the court's conception of what is just in the particular case, considering the nature of the copyright, the circumstances of the infringement and the like, is made the measure of the damages to be paid, but with the express qualification that in every case the assessment must be within the prescribed limitations, that is to say, neither more than the maximum nor less than the minimum. Within these limitations the court's discretion and sense of justice are controlling, but it has [249 U.S. 100, 107]   no discretion when proceeding under this provision to go outside of them.

    Apart from the natural import of its words, the history of the provision makes strongly for this view. An early statute required the infringer of a copyright in a dramatic composition to pay such damages 'as to the court shall appear to be just,' but 'not less than' a prescribed amount. Act Aug. 18, 1856, c. 169, 11 Stat. 138; Act July 8, 1870, c. 230 , 101, 16 Stat. 214. This statute became section 4966 of the Revised Statutes. A later statute provided that the recovery for infringing a copyright in an engraving should not be less than $250 nor more than $10, 000, and for infringing a copyright in a photograph of an object other than a work of art should not be less than $100 nor more than $5,000. Act March 2, 1895, c. 194, 28 Stat. 965. In 1909, when the copyright statutes were revised, these provisions, and others without present bearing, were brought together in the 'in lieu' provision now under consideration. True, they were broadened so as to include other copyrights and the limitations were changed in amount, but the principle on which they proceeded-that of committing the amount of damages to be recovered to the court's discretion and sense of justice, subject to prescribed limitations-was retained. The new provision, like one of the old, says the damages shall be such 'as to the court shall appear to be just.' Like both the old, it prescribes a minimum limitation and, like one, a maximum limitation.

    In Brady v. Daly, 175 U.S. 148 , 20 Sup. Ct. 62, which was an action to recover for the infringement of a copyright in a dramatic composition, the first of the earlier provisions-that in section 4966, Rev. Stat.-was much considered. The trial court was of opinion that, while the damages were to be such as appeared to it to be just, it could not go below the prescribed minimum; and it made the assessment accordingly. In this court it was contended that in this view [249 U.S. 100, 108]   the provision was penal and the action was one to recover a penalty. But the contention was overruled and the judgment affirmed, the court saying ( 175 U.S. 154, 157 , 20 S. Sup. Ct. 64, 65 [44 L. Ed. 109]):

    It was after the minimum limitation was thus recognized as of controlling force in the assessment of the damages that the terms of the provision then under consideration were substantially repeated in the 'in lieu' provision of the revised act. This hardly would have been done had it not been intended that the limitation should be as controlling there as in the earlier statute. That it was intended to be thus controlling is shown by the reports of the committees on whose recommendation the act was passed. House Report No. 2222 and Senate Report No. 1108, 60th Cong., 2d Sess.

    In our opinion the District Court erred in awarding less than $250 damages in each of the seven cases, and the Circuit Court of Appeals erred in holding there was only one case instead of seven.

    Decree reversed.

    Mr. Justice DAY did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.


    [ Footnote 1 ] For a subsequent amendment of this section see Act Aug. 24, 1912, c. 356, 37 Stat. 488 (Comp. St. 9546).

    [ Footnote 2 ] 'Prints and pictorial illustrations' are among the copyrightable works enumerated in section 5.

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