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Marx brothers lose copyright case

Marx brothers lose copyright case

Oct. 29, 1937: Chico, left, and Groucho Marx — without his trademark greasepaint mustache — wait in a courthouse press room for a verdict in their long-running federal case, the first prosecution involving the “borrowing” of material from a previously rejected script.

In a case followed closely in the press, on Nov. 2, 1937, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Groucho and Chico Marx, comedy stars of the stage, screen and radio, yesterday were fined $1,000 each by United States District Judge Cosgrave for infringing on a copyrighted radio script.

The judge expressed a doubt as to the validity of the indictment on which the Marx brothers were convicted by a jury Saturday, but said he was convinced, as was the jury, that a deliberate appropriation of the copyrighted work was made …

The Marxes were convicted of airing a radio script on September 1, 1936 without paying the authors, Garrett and Carroll Graham, brothers, who had submitted it to them for purchase.

This photo was published in the Oct. 30, 1937, Times accompanying a story on the trial. When published, the image was flopped – Groucho was on the right.

The photo also appears in the 1999 Los Angeles Times book “High Exposure: Hollywood Lives — Found Photos from the Archives of the Los Angeles Times.”


  1. June 12, 2012, 8:27 am

    The story is not surprising. Back in the 60's my parents had a friend who had been a comedy writer for radio during the 40's. His accounts of radio personalities "stealing" material or just not compensating the author for material used was quite common. I remember him telling us kids that "comedy writing was a tough business". He worked with many stars of the time and had few good comments of a number of them.

  2. June 12, 2012, 1:14 pm

    Is "flopped" a term of art? why isn't it flipped?

    By: SquareState
  3. June 13, 2012, 6:35 am

    Not only "flopped", but Groucho is misspelled as well in the first sentence.

    By: Dogwork
  4. June 13, 2012, 10:07 am

    “Flop” is a printing industry term for reversing a photograph along its vertical axis.

    By: Scott Harrison
  5. June 12, 2012, 11:42 pm

    In the 1950s Sam Levenson copyrighted everything he ever broadcast. In his archive is a file concerning a routine of his that he spotted being used in a Danny Thomas show (Make Room For Daddy). Sam was able to cite the exact Ed Sullivan program where he had performed it, had the original transcript, and the copyright certificate.

    By: mjb784533

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