‘Seinfeld’ quiz book violates producer’s copyright
SECOND CIRCUIT–A trivia quiz book testing readers’ knowledge and recollection of lines from the ‘Seinfeld’ television show does not qualify as a “fair use” and as such constitutes copyright infringement, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) ruled in mid-July.
Affirming a district court’s summary judgment motion in favor of the show’s producer, Castle Rock Entertainment, Judge John Walker held that the book, “The Seinfeld Aptitude Test,” which is devoted exclusively to testing readers’ knowledge of scenes and events from the hit NBC sitcom “Seinfeld,” contained not only facts but also”copyrightable creative expression.”
In 1995, Castle Rock filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the book’s publisher, Carol Publishing Group, in federal District Court in New York. Author Beth Golub described her book as a “natural outgrowth” of the TV sitcom. Even though Castle Rock could not show any actual monetary damages and despite evidence that the book actually helped “Seinfeld’s” ratings, Castle Rock was awarded $403,000 in damages.
On appeal, Carol Publishing Group argued that the book was protected by the fair use doctrine. “A text testing one’s knowledge of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ would qualify as ‘criticism, comment, scholarship, or research’ or such,” the publisher argued. “The same must be said then of a text testing one’s knowledge of Castle Rock’s ‘Seinfeld.'”
Walker wrote that the book “does not quiz such true facts as the identity of the actors . . . the number of days it takes to shoot an episode, the biographies of the actors, the location of the set, etc.” Instead, the book asks questions about original, protected expression from the show, such as “whether the reader knows that the character Jerry places a Pez dispenser on Elaine’s leg during a piano recital, that Kramer enjoys going to the airport because he is hypnotized by the baggage carousels, and that Jerry, opining on how to identify a virgin, said, ‘It’s not like spotting a toupee.'” (Castle Rock Entertainment v. Carol Publishing; Publisher’s Counsel: Melvin Wulf, New York City)