Sony Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Sony Doctrine is a principle applicable to intellectual property which states that staple article or commodity of commerce suitable for substantial noninfringing use cannot constitute contributory infringement. The doctrine applies to staple articles or commodities of commerce like VCRs, photocopiers, and blank standard-length cassette tapes. If the product can be used in a way that does not infringe intellectual property then its sale cannot be enjoined, nor can its manufacturer be subjected to a court-imposed royalty. The standard was set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Sony Corp. of Am. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (U.S. 1984). In Sony, petitioners manufactured and sold home video tape recorders. Respondents owned the copyrights to television programs broadcast on public airwaves. Respondents sued petitioners for copyright infringement, alleging that because consumers used petitioners' recorders to record respondents' copyrighted works, petitioners were liable for the copyright infringement allegedly committed by those consumers in violation of the Copyright Act. On appeal the U.S. Supreme court held that petitioners demonstrated a significant likelihood that substantial numbers of copyright holders that licensed works for broadcast on free television would not object to having such broadcasts recorded for later viewing by private viewers. The recorders were therefore capable of substantial non-infringing uses and respondents' sale of the recorders to the general public did not constitute copyright infringement.