Between 1989 and 1998 NBC broadcast the U.S. sitcom television series Seinfeld. Seinfeld was a comedy created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. The show follows the main character Jerry Seinfeld, a stand-up comedian, during his daily life in New York. Castle Rock Entertainment owns the copyrights to each episode of the successful television series. In syndication the series was distributed by Sony Pictures Television. In 1993 Bruce Fretts was licensed to publish the guide The Entertainment Weekly Seinfeld Companion.In October 1994 The Seinfeld Aptitude Test was published by Carol Publishing Group. Beth Golub, wrote 643 questions about the events and characters depicted in the television show. The Seinfeld Aptitude Test is a trivia quiz book devoted to testing its readers’ recollection of scenes and events from the fictional television series. The name “Seinfeld” appears prominently on the front cover. On the back-cover Golub included a disclaimer indicating that The Seinfeld Aptitude Test “has not been approved or licensed by any entity involved in creating or producing Seinfeld”. In November 1994, Castle Rock notified Carol Publishing Group. After Carol Publishing Group continued to distribute The SAT, Castle Rock filed action alleging federal copyright and trademark infringement. On February 27, 1997, the court case Castle Rock Entertainment v. Carol Publishing Group and Golub took place in the United States District Court of New York. Judge Sonia Sotomayor held that:
I. Prima Facie Copyright Liability. [...] A. Copying.[...] Simply put, there can be no real dispute that, as a factual matter, SAT copies information and dialogue from Seinfeld. [...] B. Original Elements of Seinfeld. [...] SAT poses questions about the events depicted during episodes of the Seinfeld show. [...] Seinfeld is fiction; both the “facts” in the various Seinfeld episodes, and the expression of those facts, are [Castle Rock Entertainment]’s creation. [...] Simply put [Carol Publishing] have appropriated original elements of [Castle Rock Entertainment]’s work. [...] II. Fair Use. [...] A. Purpose And Character Of The Use. [...] The Court’s finding that SAT is a transformative work, though important, is not dispositive in [Carol Publishing]’s favor. [...] B. Nature Of The Copyrighted Work. Seinfeld is a highly successful fictional and creative work. [...] [Castle Rock Entertainment] thereby has a decisive advantage with respect to the second factor of the fair use analysis. [...] C. Substantiality Of The Portion Used. [...] SAT introduces relatively little additional material into the mix. Though the book transforms the program by employing a trivia game format, that trivia game relates exclusively to events as they are depicted in the Seinfeld program. [...] [T]he Court’s finding that SAT incorporates a substantial amount from Seinfeld cannot be dispositive in [Castle Rock Entertainment] favor. [...] D. Effect On Potential Market. [...] A Seinfeld trivia game is not critical of the program, nor does it parody the program; if anything, SAT pays homage to Seinfeld. The market for such works is one that should properly be left to [Castle Rock Entertainment]’s exclusive control. [...] E. Aggregate Fair Use Assessment. [T]he Court is persuaded that, on balance, SAT does not represent a fair use of Seinfeld.
The court granted Castle Rock Entertainment motion for summary judgment on its claim of copyright infringement. Carol Publishing Group and Golub appealed the decision. On July 10, 1998, the court case Castle Rock Entertainment v. Carol Publishing Group and Golub took place in the United States Court of Appeals. Judge John Walker held that:
I. Copyright Infringement. [...] A. “Substantial Similarity”. As to the quantitative element, we conclude that The SAT has crossed the de minimis threshold. [...] As to qualitative component, each SAT trivia question is based directly upon original, protectable expression in Seinfeld. [...] B. Other Tests. [...] We note here, however, that [Castle Rock Entertainment] has a plausible claim that there is a common aesthetic appeal between the two works based on The SAT’s plain copying of Seinfeld and Golub’s statement on the back cover that the book was designed to complement the aesthetic appeal of the television series. [...] II. Fair Use. [...] A. Purpose/Character of Use. [...] [S]ince The SAT has transformed Seinfeld’s expression into trivia quiz book form with little, if any, transformative purpose, the first fair use factor weighs against [Carol Publishing]. [...] B. Nature of the Copyrighted Work. [T]he fictional nature of the copyrighted work remains significant in the instant case. [...] Thus, the second statutory factor favors the [Castle Rock Entertainment]. [...] C. Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole. [...] The SAT does not serve a critical or otherwise transformative purpose. Accordingly, the third factor weighs against fair use. [...] D. Effect of Use Upon Potential Market for or Value of Copyrighted Work. [...] The SAT substitutes for a derivative market that a television program copyright owner such as Castle Rock would in general develop or license others to develop. [...] The fourth statutory factor therefore favors Castle Rock. [...] E. Other Factors. We also note that free speech and public interest considerations are of little relevance in this case, which concerns garden-variety infringement of creative fictional works. [...] F. Aggregate Assessment. Considering all of the factors discussed above, we conclude that the copyright law’s objective [...] would be undermined by permitting The SAT’s copying of Seinfeld.
The court concluded that The Seinfeld Aptitude Test unlawfully copies from Seinfeld and that its copying does not constitute fair use and thus is an actionable infringement and affirmed the judgment in favor of Castle Rock Entertainment.