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Discovery Rule for Copyright Statute of Limitations in 5th Circuit

Posted by James Juo | Apr 18, 2023 | 0 Comments

A civil action for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976 must be “commenced within three years after the claim accrued.” 17 U.S.C. § 507(b).

The Fifth Circuit has reaffirmed its prior precedent that this limitations period starts running “once the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury upon which the claim is based,” which is also known as the discovery rule. Martinelli v. Hearst Newspapers, L.C.C., No. 22-20333, — F.4th — (5th Cir. Apr. 13, 2023) (citing Graper v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co., 756 F.3d 388, 393 (5th Cir. 2014)).

Rule of Orderliness

The Fifth Circuit noted that under the rule of orderliness, “one panel . . . may not overturn another panel's decision, absent an intervening change in the law, such as by a statutory amendment, or the Supreme Court, or our en banc court.” Jacobs v. Nat'l Drug Intel. Ctr., 548 F.3d 375, 378 (5th Cir. 2008); United States v. Alcantar, 733 F.3d 143, 145-46 (5th Cir. 2013).

Following these principles, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 572 U.S. 663 (2014) and Rotkiske v. Klemm, 140 S. Ct. 355 (2019) did not fundamentally change the focus of the relevant analysis for this issue.

The Court also cited subsequent decisions from the Second Circuit and the Ninth Circuit which also continued to follow their prior precedents applying the discovery rule to the statute of limitations for copyright infringement. See Sohm v. Scholastic Inc., 959 F.3d 39, 50 (2d Cir. 2020); Starz Entertainment, LLC v. MGM Domestic Television Distribution, LLC, 39 F.4th 1236, 1246 (9th Cir. 2022).

Citing Gahagan v. USCIS, 911 F.3d 298, 304 (5th Cir. 2018), the Fifth Circuit stated that it is “always chary to create a circuit split, including when applying the rule of orderliness.”

Thus, the Fifth Circuit held that copyright infringement claims are timely when brought within three years of discovering the alleged infringement.

The attorneys at Thomas P. Howard, LLC litigate copyright cases nationwide including in Colorado.

About the Author

James Juo

James Juo is an experienced intellectual property attorney. He has successfully litigated various intellectual property disputes involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. He also has counseled clients on the scope and validity of patent and trademark rights.


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