Gilliam v. American Broadcasting Co., 538 F.2d 14 (2nd Cir. 1976)

[click here for text of the full opinion]

ABC obtained a license (via BBC) to broadcast three back-to-back, 30-minute episodes of Monty Python.  The contract between Monty Python and BBC specified that the episodes were only to be braodcast in their entirety.  ABC planned to edit out 6 minutes per half-hour episode, and Monty Python sued for an injunction to prevent them from broadcasting the edited version.  One basis for this claim was that the deletion of several scenes from the broadcast violated the moral rights of the original artists.  The court explained:  "American copyright law, as presently written, does not recognize moral rights or provide a cause of action for their violation, since the law seeks to vindicate the economic, rather than the personal, rights of authors. Nevertheless, the economic incentive for artistic and intellectual creation that serves as the foundation for American copyright law, cannot be reconciled with the inability of artists to obtain relief for mutilation or misrepresentation of their work to the public on which the artists are financially dependent. Thus courts have long granted relief for misrepresentation of an artist's work by relying on theories outside the statutory law of copyright, such as contract law or the tort of unfair competition. Although such decisions are clothed in terms of proprietary right in one's creation, they also properly vindicate the author's personal right to prevent the presentation of his work to the public in a distorted form."  Since the ABC version "impaired the integrity of appellants' work and represented to the public as the product of appellants what was actually a mere caricature of their talents, the court held that it constituted a violation of Monty Python's moral rights.