Friday, November 29, 2013

SunTrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co. case brief

SunTrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co. case brief summary
268 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir. 2001)

Defendant publisher appealed from an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia that granted a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff trustee, enjoining publication of a work of fiction, "The Wind Done Gone," that was alleged to infringe upon the copyright of the trustee's deceased's work of fiction, upon which it was admittedly based.

Trustee's decedent authored the book "Gone With the Wind," the best selling book, aside from the Bible, in the world. The publisher owned the rights to a new book written by an African American author that was a critique of the depiction of slavery and the Civil-War era American South that used and drew upon the characters and story line from decedent's book. The district court found the newer book infringed on the copyright of decedent's book, that irreparable injury could be presumed, and granted a preliminary injunction.

On appeal, the publisher argued that there was no substantial similarity between the two works or, in the alternative, that the doctrine of fair use, 17 U.S.C.S. § 107, protected the newer book because it was primarily a parody.


  • The appellate court found that the newer book was clearly a parody, a specific criticism of and rejoinder to the decedent's book that it provided social benefit by shedding light on the earlier work. 
  • Although fair use was an affirmative defense, the trustee had the burden of proof to obtain injunctive relief. 
  • It was also apparent that there would be little risk of market substitution, as the works were unlikely to be confused.

The judgment of the district court was reversed and remanded. At the preliminary injunction stage, the publisher was entitled to a fair use defense for its parody, that was unlikely to be confused with or cause market harm to the trustee's decedent's work of fiction. Prior restraint was not warranted absent an affirmative showing of irreparable injury.

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