Gilliam v. American Broadcasting Cos. Inc.

538 F.2d 14 (2nd Cir. 1976)


Ps are a group of British writers and performers known as 'Monty Python.' Ps created 'Monty Python's Flying Circus', a television series, for the BBC. As part of the agreement to create the work, the BBC retains final authority to make changes. Ps exercised optimum control over the scripts consistent with BBC's authority and only minor changes may be made without prior consultation with the writers. Nothing in the scriptwriters' agreement entitles BBC to alter a program once it has been recorded. The agreement further provides that, subject to the terms therein, the group retains all rights in the script. BBC may license the transmission of recordings of the television programs in any overseas territory. In October 1973, Time-Life Films acquired the right to distribute in the United States certain BBC television programs, including the Monty Python series. Time-Life was permitted to edit the programs only 'for insertion of commercials, applicable censorship or governmental . . . rules and regulations, and National Association of Broadcasters and time segment requirements.' No similar clause was included in the scriptwriters' agreement between appellants and BBC. In July 1975, D agreed with Time-Life to broadcast two ninety-minute specials each comprising three thirty-minute Monty Python programs that had not previously been shown in this country. In short, D cut 24 minutes of each 90-minute program for commercials. P learned of the butcher job and sought to delay the showing. On December 15 the group filed this action to enjoin the broadcast and for damages. Judge Lasker found that 'the plaintiffs have established an impairment of the integrity of their work' which 'caused the film or program . . . to lose its iconoclastic verve.' According to Judge Lasker, 'the damage that has been caused to the plaintiffs is irreparable by its nature.' The judge denied the motion for the preliminary injunction on the grounds that it was unclear who owned the copyright. Judge Lasker granted P's request for more limited relief by requiring ABC to broadcast a disclaimer during the December 26 special to the effect that the group dissociated itself from the program because of the editing. A panel granted a stay of that order until this appeal could be heard and permitted ABC to broadcast, at the beginning of the special, only the legend that the program had been edited by ABC. The court of appeals decided the case.