S.D.N.Y. Notes Split within Second Circuit re When a Civil Copyright Infringement Claim Accrues

Per Roberts v. Keith, 2006 WL 547252 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2006):

The Copyright Act states with deceptive simplicity that a civil copyright infringement claim must be brought "within three years after the claim accrued," 17 U.S.C. ยง 507(b), without bothering to define when a claim accrues. Conceptually there are two alternatives. An infringement claim may "accrue" at the time of the infringement (the "injury rule") or when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury upon which the claim is based (the "discovery rule"). Whether a copyright infringement action accrues as of the date of injury or as of the date of discovery is far from a settled question in the case law. Neither the Supreme Court nor the Second Circuit has ruled on the issue, and district courts within this Circuit are divided, with a majority of the earlier decisions holding that a copyright claim accrues on the date of its discovery by the plaintiff. See Auscape Int'l v. Nat'l Geographic Soc'y, No. 02 Civ. 6441, 2004 WL 1798130, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 12, 2004). . . .

Judge Kaplan's thorough and lucid opinion in Auscape forcefully challenges those decisions by other district courts in this Circuit holding that civil copyright infringement claims accrue as of the date of discovery. Ausscape correctly observes that those cases "rely almost exclusively upon Merchant v. Levy, 92 F.3d 51 (2d Cir.1996)," which in turn "followed Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043 (2d Cir.1992). . . .

But Merchant and Stone can not be regarded as applicable to, let alone determinative of, the question of when a claim for copyright infringement accrues. That is because they antedate the Supreme Court's decision in TRW v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19 (2001), which Judge Kaplan rightly said in Auscape "altered this landscape." 2004 WL 1798130, at *5. TRW shifted the tectonic plates because, in determining when a claim accrued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Supreme Court "rejected the previously dominant view that federal courts should apply an injury rule only when Congress explicitly has adopted that rule, requiring instead that federal courts look beyond the specific language of a statute to its text and structure in determining what rule should apply when the statute is silent." Id.

In Auscape Judge Kaplan, correctly perceiving the generality of the rule the Supreme Court announced in TRW and that there was no principled difference in respect of the statute of limitations calculus between the Copyright Act and the federal statute involved in TRW, looked to the statutory structure and legislative history of the Copyright Act in determining whether a discovery or injury rule should apply in copyright infringement claims. His careful examination of the legislative history demonstrates in convincing fashion that "Congress intended to adopt a three-year limitations period running from the date of the infringement, as a discovery rule would have defeated its overriding goal of certainty." 2004 WL 1798130, at*7. After a similarly thorough review, Judge Kaplan concluded that "Supreme Court precedent concerning statutes of limitations in other contexts also supports the application of the injury rule here." Id., at *7. I find the analyses conducted and conclusions reached in Auscape to be entirely persuasive, adopt them as my own in the case at bar, and accordingly hold that the injury rule governs the application of the three-year statute of limitations in this copyright infringement case.


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