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Bobbs-Merrill Co v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339 (1908)

A Supreme Court decision dealing with license terms of copyrighted works. The case centered around the publisher setting additional terms not specifically stated in the statute and claiming that the work was licensed and not sold.

Bobbs-Merrill Company sold a copyrighted novel, 'The Castaway,', with the notice, "The price of this book at retail is $1 net. No dealer is licensed to sell it at a less price, and a sale at a less price will be treated as an infringement of the copyright" printed immediately below the copyright notice. The defendants purchased large lots of books at wholesale and sold copies of the book at retail at the price of 89 cents a copy.

The Court affirmed the proposition that copyright property under the federal law is wholly statutory, and depends upon the right created under the acts of Congress. The copyright statutes, while protecting the owner of the copyright in their right to multiply and sell the production, do not create the right to impose, by notice, a limitation at which a work would give a right not included in the terms of the statute extending its operation, by construction, beyond its meaning, when interpreted with a view to ascertaining the legislative intent in its enactment.

In more simple terms, a company may not extend the rights of the copyright holder through the use of a license.

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