Status Report: Stephen E. Poe v. Roy T. Young et al,
US District Court, D. Nev CV-N-006-HDM (RAM)
August 18, 1999: Young's motion for summary judgment was granted, thus deciding the case against Poe.
This is a case for copyright infringement brought by Stephen E. Poe against Roy T. Young in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. Poe was the author of A Concordance to the Big Book and claimed that Young infringed his copyright when Young produced his Big Book Concordance. Both works index virtually every word in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (a.k.a. the "Big Book"), 3d ed., a basic text for AA.
The district court granted Young's motion for summary judgment against Poe, holding that (1) Poe's work lacked the minimum creativity which would entitle it to protection under the Copyright Act of 1975, 17 U.S.C Sec. 101 et seq., and that in any event (2) the court's examination of the two works showed substantial differences between the two works which indicated that Young did not copy Poe's work. Full text of the district court's opinion
In 1990, Poe published and copyrighted A Concordance to Alcoholics Anonymous.
In the early 1990's, Young authored his Big Book Concordance. He posted his concordance on the Internet in 1997, allowing anyone to use it without charge. He published it in paperback in 1998 and shortly thereafter obtained a copyright on it.
Shortly after Young published his paperback, Poe's attorney, Stephen J. Healy, Esq., telephoned Young and asserted that (1) Poe's copyright gave Poe the exclusive right to produce such a concordance, and (2) Young had infringed on Poe's copyright by copying his Big Book Concordance from Poe's work.
Young offered to demonstrate to Healy that this was incorrect on both the law and the facts:
No one has an exclusive right to produce a concordance to the Big Book. (Court's Opinion, pp. 3-4) Compiling a concordance (like drawing a map) does not give the author exclusive right to the subject matter. For instance, the map maker who first surveys and maps a city doesn't have an exclusive right to make maps to that city. His only right is to be compensated for damages resulting from illegal copying of his work. Anyone else can survey the city and make and sell his own map.
In addition, Young had kept complete records of the independent production of his concordance, starting with the electronic version of the Big Book which he purchased from AA in the early 1990's through the intermediate processes and drafts Young used to produce his concordance. Young offered to make these records available, but Poe and Healy were not interested. Shortly after that telephone call Poe initiated suit for copyright infringement.
Poe asked the district court for a temporary restraining order and then for a preliminary injunction preventing Young from selling his concordance, both of which were denied.
In June 1999, Young moved for summary judgment. In granting that motion, the district court concluded that there was substantial evidence that Young's work was not copied from Poe's. To prevent copying, map makers often insert cartographer's marks--small insignificant errors in the map which would not appear if the alleged copier used his own survey but would appear if the original map were copied. The court noted that Poe did not claim any such identical "errors" which could have proved copying. (Court's Opinion, p. 5). Furthermore, "[t]he inclusion of words in Young's version that are not contained in Poe's version suggests that the work was not copied." (Court's Opinion, p. 5). Finally, the court compared samples of the two works and concluded that there were a different number of references to 36% of the words, and that "these differences further show that Young did not copy Poe's work." (Court's Opinion, p. 5).
It is difficult to understand why Poe's attorney refused to look at Young's offered proofs of the law and facts before bringing the case. However, the mere act of bringing a meritless case is often sufficient to scare off competition. Had Young not had sufficient funds and a willingness to defend the case, Poe could have forced Young to stop sales of his concordance. It may also be that Poe had been misled by an attorney's erroneous advice that his rights were being infringed, or that Poe had wanted to protect his legacy--having produced the only concordance to the Big Book.
It is unknown whether Poe's attorney ever told Poe the full consequences of the district court's decision. Poe not only lost the case at hand, but the court further held ". . . that there appears to be no creativity deserving of [copyright] protection in this concordance [save in the forward, preface, and acknowledgments and appendices, not here in issue]." (Court's Opinion, p. 5) Thus, it is now res judicata (adjudged with finality) that the substance of Poe's concordance is not entitled to any copyright protection whatever.
Mr. Young expended about $14,000 in defending his right to sell his Big Book Concordance.
Full text of the Court's Opinion
Download the Court's Opinion in Adobe PDF format for easy printout (56k)
Use the free online Big Book Concordance
Email Roy Young
RYAA Page November 29, 2003