Washington Law Review


Edwin K. Sato


Gene Miller, a reporter for the Miami Herald, collaborated with a kidnapping victim in writing the book 83 Hours Till Dawn. The book detailed the victim's experience of being placed in a coffin-like container and buried alive in the Georgia woods for five days. Universal City Studios negotiated with Miller to purchase the movie rights to the work, but no agreement was reached. Nevertheless, Universal produced and aired a television movie about the kidnapping. Miller brought an action alleging that Universal's making of the movie infringed his copyright in the book. The trial court instructed the jury that, while facts cannot be copyrighted, an author's research of factual matters is copyrightable. In Miller v. Universal City Studios, Inc., the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that research is not copyrightable. The court based its holding on the copyright distinction between facts and ideas, which do not receive copyright protection, and the expression of facts or ideas, which does. It reasoned that the research upon which Miller based his book more closely resembled unprotected "facts" than protected "expression."

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