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March 06, 2019

Two SCOTUS Rulings Makes It Harder To Sue For Copyright Violation

In two rulings this week that united the liberal and conservative wings in unanimous decisions, the United States Supreme Court made suing for copyright violations considerably harder by making plaintiffs wait longer to file lawsuits, and in a separate case, increasing the potential costs of following through with copyright lawsuits, even victorious suits, as the legal site Lexology reported.  In one ruling, involving The Wall Street Journal, the court ruled that before a copyright lawsuit may be filed, the U.S. copyright office must first grant a copyright certificate, a process that can take months or even years—and could even extend beyond the three-year statute of limitations after which lawsuits may no longer be filed at all. In her opinion, writing for the nine-justice court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that such delays are “attributable, in large measure, to staffing and budgetary shortages that Congress can alleviate, but courts cannot cure." Previously, copyright suits could be filed any time after a copyright holder had filed paperwork with the copyright office, even though the copyright had not been officially registered.  In the case,  Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, the Journal web site left content provided by Fourth Estate on their site even after their license to do has expired. Fourth Estate sued even though the company had not yet completed the copyright process on the material. Federal copyright law states that no lawsuit can be filed until “registration of the copyright claim has been made.” Lower courts had interpreted the phrase “been made” to mean that a copyright holder must simply make an application, but the Supreme Court interpreted the phrase more strictly. In the other major copyright decision of the week, the court ruled unanimously that plaintiffs who win copyright lawsuits are not eligible to collect their attorneys fees from the losing defendants. The decision came in a case in which the software firm Rimini Street was found to have violated 93 copyrights held by Oracle. Rimini was ordered to pay about $100 million—including $12.8 million in attorneys fees.  But the court ruled that federal copyright laws impose strict limits on the type of damages that can be recovered by copyright  holders—and those damages do not include the cost of lawyers. Because the cost of suing for copyright violation often includes expensive expert testimony, consultant’s fees and similar costs, the ruling could dissuade copyright holders from suing over violations, knowing that may have to bear the full cost of the case even if they win. Photo By Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

 
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