Document Type


Publication Date

January 2005


copyright infringement, musical composition, "The Old Arm Chair", intellectual property


This paper was the recipient of the 2005 ASCAP Nathan Burkan Memorial Award.


The “Act to Amend the Several Acts Respecting Copyrights” (1831) created copyright protection in musical compositions. George P. Reed sued Samuel Carusi in the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Maryland for “causing ‘The Old Arm Chair’ to be engraved, published, and sold, and for varying the main design of the musical composition with intent to evade the law” in violation of the 1831 Copyright Act. Reed claimed that he was authorized to sue as a legal assign of the Oakes and Swan copyright in “The Old Arm Chair.” The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff Reed, but reduced the liability from $2,000 (as requested by Reed) to $200, half of which went to the U.S. government. Carusi’s attorneys, William F. Frick and Francis Brinley, filed a petition for a pardon of the $100 judgment debt owed to the government, and President Polk granted the pardon.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television (1998) cited Reed v. Carusi “to demonstrate that, historically, damages for violation of a copyright statute were determined by a jury in a court of law, not a court of equity or admiralty.” However, a greater expectation on jurors, as the 1976 Copyright Act, in Feltner, dictates, is likely to make copyright enforcement even more unpredictable. There continues to be a lack of predictability in statutory damages for copyright infringement.