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Unformatted text preview: 1 A. A. HOEHLING, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS, INC., and MICHAEL MAC DONALD MOONEY, Defendants-Appellees. 618 F.2d 972 (2d Cir. 1980) Before KAUFMAN, Chief Judge, TIMBERS, Circuit Judge, and WERKER, District Judge. * * Of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, sitting by des- ignation. KAUFMAN, J.: A grant of copyright in a published work secures for its author a limited monopoly over the expression it contains. The copyright provides a financial incentive to those who would add to the corpus of existing knowledge by creating original works. Nevertheless, the protection afforded the copyright holder has never extended to history, be it documented fact or explanatory hypothesis. The rationale for this doctrine is that the cause of knowledge is best served when history is the common property of all, and each generation remains free to draw upon the discoveries and insights of the past. Accordingly, the scope of copyright in historical accounts is narrow indeed, embracing no more than the author's original expression of particular facts and theories already in the public domain. As the case before us illustrates, absent wholesale usurpation of another's expression, claims of copyright infringement where works of history are at issue are rarely successful. I. This litigation arises from three separate accounts of the triumphant introduction, last voyage, and tragic destruction of the Hindenburg, the colossal dirigible constructed in Germany during Hit- ler's reign. The zeppelin, the last and most sophisticated in a fleet of luxury airships, which punctu- ally floated its wealthy passengers from the Third Reich to the United States, exploded into flames and disintegrated in 35 seconds as it hovered above the Lakehurst, New Jersey Naval Air Station at 7:25 p. m. on May 6, 1937. Thirty-six passengers and [*975] crew were killed but, fortunately, 52 persons survived. Official investigations conducted by both American and German authorities could ascertain no definitive cause of the disaster, but both suggested the plausibility of static elec- tricity or St. Elmo's Fire, which could have ignited the highly explosive hydrogen that filled the air- ship. Throughout, the investigators refused to rule out the possibility of sabotage. The destruction of the Hindenburg marked the concluding chapter in the chronicle of airship passenger service, for after the tragedy at Lakehurst, the Nazi regime permanently grounded the Graf Zeppelin I and discontinued its plan to construct an even larger dirigible, the Graf Zeppelin II. The final pages of the airship's story marked the beginning of a series of journalistic, historical, and literary accounts devoted to the Hindenburg and its fate. Indeed, weeks of testimony by a plethora of witnesses before the official investigative panels provided fertile source material for would-be authors. Moreover, both the American and German Commissions issued official reports, detailing all that was then known of the tragedy. detailing all that was then known of the tragedy....
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