Bartow Copyright Collection : You Stole my Poster for your Cover

In these actions for copyright infringement, plaintiff Saul Steinberg is suing the producers, promoters, distributors and advertisers of the movie "Moscow on the Hudson" ("Moscow"). Steinberg is an artist whose fame derives in part from cartoons and illustrations he has drawn for The New Yorker magazine.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants' promotional poster for "Moscow" infringes his copyright on an illustration that he drew for The New Yorker and that appeared on the cover of the March 29, 1976 issue of the magazine, in violation of 17 U.S.C. 101-810. Defendants deny this allegation and assert the affirmative defenses of fair use as a parody, estoppel and laches.

Judge Louis L. Stanton believed, in this case, that Steinberg had created the parody about New Yorkers by arguing their perspective about the world, not the movie poster.  Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. may have found inspiration in Steinberg’s work, by had only borrowed the parody that Steinberg created instead of making their own.

Because they were not arguing for anything else, but using the poster to argue the same effect as Steinberg, Steinberg won his court case on the grounds that too much had been copied.  Judge Stanton believed that the perspective itself was not copyright (the poster was free to use the subjective perspective of New York citizens), but the use of other similarities was indeed a copyright infringement.

STEINBERG v. COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC., 663 F. Supp. 706 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)