NEW YORK -- A federal judge yesterday barred publication of a biography of Igor Stravinsky, ruling that it drew too heavily from copyrighted quotes of the late composer.
In a preliminary order, U.S. District Judge Pierre Leval granted a request from longtime Stravinsky aide Robert Craft that he enjoin Macmillan Inc. from publishing "Firebird," a 337-page biography by John Kobler.
Noting the relative rarity of such orders, Craft's lawyer, Martin Garbus, called Leval's ruling "an important victory" for copyright holders. "I think the law's changing, and I think what this is doing is protecting publishers and authors against people who rip them off," he said.
Garbus noted that it was Leval who refused in November to bar publication of a biography of author J.D. Salinger, only to be overturned on appeal.
Leval, however, said the Stravinsky case differed significantly from the Salinger case because Salinger claimed a copyright on unpublished letters, while the Stravinsky claim was based on previously published material.
Craft wrote or cowrote 15 books on Stravinsky, including four books of his interviews with the composer. Stravinsky held the copyright on his comments in those books, and willed the copyright to Craft when he died, Leval said.
Kobler, who worked two years on his biography, included numerous quotes from the Craft-Stravinsky books. He claimed the doctrine of "fair use," which allows copyrighted material to be quoted in research, criticism or news.
Of 167 passages to which Craft objected, Leval said 78 arguably are acceptable because of fair use or other reasons. But the other 89 passages -- mainly direct quotes of Stravinsky -- are copyright infringements, Leval said.
"In my view, Kobler's takings are far too numerous and with too little instructional justification to support the conclusion of fair use," the judge wrote. He said Kobler used Stravinsky's quotes "without restraint throughout the book," and suggested that the quotes may make up "the liveliest and most entertaining parts of the biography."
His ruling does not kill Kobler's biography, Leval said, "but may require revisions reducing the use of Stravinsky's prose."
Macmillan's lawyer, Richard Constantine, said he had no comment.