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Copyright Infringement


When exactly is it too late to sue if your copyrighted work has been infringed?   While the Copyright Act gives three years from when the claim accrued, the question is complicated by Plaintiffs who delay in suing until years later. Defendants may also argue intentional delays cause them undue prejudice (called Laches).   Laches in various areas of law has been a fairly successful argument made by many defendants who assert that they have had to face undue hardship, usually in the form of documents that have been lost, witnesses that are no longer living or available, etc.

Recently, however, in the Raging Bull case, the US Supreme Court (http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/petrella-v-metro-goldwyn-mayer-inc/) allowed a Plaintiff to sue for copyright infringement nearly two decades after the copyright infringement began.

Despite contrary rulings from two lower courts, the Supreme Court allowed Ms. Petrella, the copyright holder to the screenplay for Raging Bull, to sue MGM for copyright infringement.   However, the suit would be limited to the three years preceding Ms. Petrella’s filing of the lawsuit, in accordance with the Copyright statute of limitations.  The Court reasoned that by allowing a successful plaintiff to gain relief that is limited to only the most recent three years prior to the suit, the copyright statute of limitations takes account of any delay in filing.

This case is a good reminder that even many years after copyright infringement has begun, a Plaintiff, depending upon the circumstances, may still successfully bring suit for copyright infringement.