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Bercovici v. Chaplin: 1947

"the Little Tramp" Plays To A Full House, Plaintiff Claims Oral Agreement, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiff: Konrad Bercovici
Defendant: Charles S. Chaplin
Plaintiff Claim: Plagiarism
Chief Defense Lawyer: Louis Frohlich
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiff: Louis Nizer
Judge: Harold P. Burke
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: April 17-May 1, 1947
Verdict: None; suit settled for $95,000 payment by Chaplin

SIGNIFICANCE: This suit against Charlie Chaplin for plagiarism attracted international attention and tarnished the comedian's benign image. Although the plaintiff in the end settled for a modest amount of money by agreeing to a settlement, Chaplin acknowledged, in effect, that he had plagiarized another's film concept.

Silent-film star Charlie Chaplin and screenwriter Konrad Bercovici became close friends in Hollywood early in the 1920s. They continued to see each other during the 30s, when Chaplin was creating his greatest hits, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator. The latter, his first sound film, was released in 1940 as Europe was already deep in World War II and the United States faced inevitable participation; the film was a powerful and caustic burlesque of Germany's Adolf Hitler.

In June 1946, a year after the war ended, the Information Control Division of the Allied Control Council, which oversaw the military administration of occupied Germany, permitted a "sneak preview" showing of The Great Dictator in Berlin. Replying to questionnaires, the audience said the film should not be shown throughout the nation lest it stimulate revulsion rather than mirth.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953