STEWART ET AL. v. ABEND, DBA AUTHORS RESEARCH CO.
495 U.S. 207 (1990)
JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
The author of a pre-existing work may assign to another the right to use it in a derivative work.
In this case the author of a pre-existing work agreed to assign the rights in his renewal copyright
term to the owner of a derivative work, but died before the commencement of the renewal period.
The question presented is whether the owner of the derivative work infringed the rights of the suc-
cessor owner of the pre-existing work by continued distribution and publication of the derivative
work during the renewal term of the pre-existing work.
Cornell Woolrich authored the story "It Had to Be Murder," which was first published in Febru-
ary 1942 in Dime Detective Magazine.
The magazine's publisher, Popular Publications, Inc., ob-
tained the rights to magazine publication of the story and Woolrich retained all other rights.
lar Publications obtained a blanket copyright for the issue of Dime Detective Magazine in which "It
Had to Be Murder" was published.
The Copyright Act of 1909 (1909 Act), 35 Stat. 1075, 17 U.S.C. §1 et seq. (1976 ed.),
provided authors a 28-year initial term of copyright protection plus a 28-year renewal term. See 17
U.S.C. §24 (1976 ed.).
In 1945, Woolrich agreed to assign the rights to make motion picture ver-
sions of six of his stories, including "It Had to Be Murder," to B. G. De Sylva Productions for
He also agreed to renew the copyrights in the stories at the appropriate time and to assign
the same motion picture rights to De Sylva Productions for the 28-year renewal term. In 1953, actor
Jimmy Stewart and director Alfred Hitchcock formed a production company, Patron, Inc., which
obtained the motion picture rights in "It Had to Be Murder" from De Sylva's successors in interest
for $ 10,000.
In 1954, Patron, Inc., along with Paramount Pictures, produced and distributed "Rear Window,"
the motion picture version of Woolrich's story "It Had to Be Murder." Woolrich died in 1968 before
he could obtain the rights in the renewal term for petitioners as promised and without a surviving
spouse or child.
He left his property to a trust administered by his executor, Chase Manhattan
Bank, for the benefit of Columbia University.
On December 29, 1969, Chase Manhattan Bank re-
newed the copyright in the "It Had to Be Murder" story pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §24 (1976 ed.).
Chase Manhattan assigned the renewal rights to respondent Abend for $650 plus 10% of all pro-
ceeds from exploitation of the story.
"Rear Window" was broadcast on the ABC television network in 1971.
Respondent then noti-
fied petitioners Hitchcock (now represented by cotrustees of his will), Stewart, and MCA Inc., the
owners of the "Rear Window" motion picture and renewal rights in the motion picture, that he
owned the renewal rights in the copyright and that their distribution of the motion picture without
his permission infringed his copyright in the story.
Hitchcock, Stewart, and MCA nonetheless en-