Dowling v. United States,
473 U.S. 207 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985)

Dowling v. United States

No. 84-589

Argued April 17, 1985

Decided June 28, 1985

473 U.S. 207


Title 18 U.S.C. § 2314 provides criminal penalties for any person who

"transports in interstate or foreign commerce any goods, wares, merchandise, securities or money, of the value of $5,000 or more, knowing the same to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud."

Petitioner was convicted in Federal District Court of violating, inter alia, § 2314, arising from the interstate transportation of "bootleg" phonorecords that were manufactured and distributed without the consent of the copyright owners of the musical compositions performed on the records. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 2314 does not reach petitioner's conduct. Pp. 473 U. S. 213-229.

(a) The language of § 2314 does not "plainly and unmistakably" cover such conduct. The phonorecords in question were not "stolen, converted or taken by fraud" for purposes of § 2314. The section's language clearly contemplates a physical identity between the items unlawfully obtained and those eventually transported, and hence some prior physical taking of the subject goods. Since the statutorily defined property rights of a copyright holder have a character distinct from the possessory interest of the owner of simple "goods, wares, [or] merchandise," interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright, nor wholly deprive its owner of its use. Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud. Pp. 473 U. S. 214-218.

(b) The purpose of § 2314 to fill with federal action an enforcement gap created by limited state jurisdiction over interstate transportation of stolen property does not apply to petitioner's conduct. No such need for supplemental federal action has ever existed with respect to copyright infringement, since Congress has the power under the Constitution to legislate directly in this area. Pp. 473 U. S. 218-221.

(c) The history of the criminal infringement provisions of the Copyright Act indicates that Congress had no intention to reach copyright infringement when it enacted § 2314. Pp. 473 U. S. 221-226.

(d) To apply § 2314 to petitioner's conduct would support its extension to significant areas, such as interstate transportation of patent

Page 473 U. S. 208

infringing goods, that Congress has evidenced no intention to enter by way of criminal sanction. Pp. 473 U. S. 226-227.

739 F.2d 1445, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGR, C.J., and WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 229.

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