Attorney Steve® Copyright Essentials - Statute of Limitations
Here is a case from the UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA that discusses the statute of limitations in copyright infringement cases, and what happens if there are ongoing infringements (within the statute of limitations) even if the initial infringement is beyond the three year statute of limitations.
The case is:
JOHN EVANS, Plaintiff, v. NBCUNIVERSAL MEDIA, LLC et al., Defendants. Case No.: CV 21-0984-CBM-PD(x)
In this case the court discussed:
"A copyright claim must be “commenced within three years after the claim accrued,” 17 U.S.C. § 507(b), which occurs “when a party discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the alleged infringement.” Oracle Am., Inc. v. Hewlett Packard Enter. Co., 971 F.3d 1042, 1047 (9th Cir. 2020). Here, the Complaint alleges “[o]n November 1, 2007, [Plaintiff] became aware of the animated film released by DreamWorks” (Compl. ¶ 3) which “copied numerous copyrightable elements of Plaintiff's work. Plaintiff argues his copyright infringement claim is not time-barred because “the statute of limitations for the Defendants' successive violations has not elapsed pursuant to the separate accrual rule.” Under the separate accrual rule, “when a defendant commits successive violations, the statute of limitations runs separately from each violation. Each time an infringing work is reproduced or distributed, the infringer commits a new wrong. Each wrong gives rise to a discrete ‘claim' that ‘accrue[s]' at the time the wrong occurs. In short, each infringing act starts a new limitations period.” Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 572 U.S. 663, 671 (2014).
“Thus, when a defendant has engaged (or is alleged to have engaged) in a series of discrete infringing acts, the copyright holder's suit ordinarily will be timely under [17 U.S.C.] § 507(b) with respect to more recent acts of infringement (i.e., acts within the three-year window), but untimely with respect to prior acts of the same or similar kind.” Id. at 672. Therefore, notwithstanding the separate accrual rule, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 507(b)'s three-year statute of limitations, “a successful plaintiff can gain retrospective relief only three years back from the time of suit. No recovery may be had for infringement in earlier years. Profits made in those years remain the defendant's to keep.” Id. at 677.5 Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim is time-barred as to any alleged infringement that occurred more than three years prior to Plaintiff filing the complaint on February 4, 2021.
Contact a Copyright Lawyer
As this case illustrates, don't wait too long to seek legal counsel on your copyright infringement claims that may involve fashion/fabric, jewelry, dancing (choreography), music, film, video, news clips, architectural plans or other copyrighted content. If you do, you may lose your right to sue for money damages. This can also happen in software audit settings (ex. Autodesk, Vero, Solidworks, Microsoft and other cases where the auditing software publisher seeks to hold a company or individual for software piracy for allegedly using hacked or pirated software, and the company has "phone-home" technology that could have, and should have easily detected this and mitigated the damages immediately.
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