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Supreme Court: In Copyright, Laches Cannot Preclude Actions Taken Within Three Year Statute of Limitations, by Dennis Crouch, PatentlyO Blog


Petrella v. MGM (Supreme Court 2014)

Frank Petrella wrote a screenplay back in 1963 based on the life of Jake LaMotta and assigned rights to UA/MGM who made the movie Raging Bull. Under the old renewal system, renewal rights went to Petrella’s heir, Paula Petrella, who renewed the copyright in 1991 in a fashion that (seemingly) eliminates the prior license. In 1998 she informed MGM that its continued exploitation of the Raging Bull movie violated her copyright. Finally, in 2009, she did sue – alleging copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement has a three-year statute of limitations indicating that ‘No civil action shall be maintained under the [Act] unless it is commenced within three years after the claim accrued.’ 17 U.S.C. §507(b). However, as in patent law, copyright follows a ‘separate-accrual rule’ that sees each successive violation of a copyright as a new infringing act with its own statute of limitations. Thus, under the statute of limitations, MGM could be liable for its post-2006 actions such as copying and distributing the work. . . .