Raging Bull Copyright Owner KO’s Film Studios

The Copyright Act statute of limitations is 3 years.  (17 U.S.C. §507(b)).  The statute of limitation is rolling, in that each new infringement starts a new statute of limitations period running.  The copyright term for works created after 1922 and before January 1, 1978 is 95 years.  Laches is an equitable doctrine that prevents the plaintiff from recovering when the plaintiff has unreasonably delayed in filing suit, resulting in undue hardship to the defendant.  Does laches entirely prevent a copyright owner from claiming copyright infringement when the copyright term has not expired?

No, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s answer to this question.  Paula Petrella, the copyright owner of the 1963 screen play upon which the movie Raging Bull is based, filed suit for copyright infringement against MGM and others.  MGM argued that laches entirely precluded Petrella’s copyright infringement claim against it and the other defendants.  The district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with MGM and the other defendants.  The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded.  I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision.  What is the purpose of our lengthy copyright term if the copyright owner can’t enforce the copyright throughout the entire term?

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Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Challenging Willis’ Copyright Grant Termination

When Victor Willis served Scorpio Music (Black Scorpio) and Can’t Stop Productions with a copyright grant termination notice for lyrics he wrote as the original lead singer of the Village People, Scorpio and Can’t Stop sued to challenge the validity of the termination notice.  My post Village People Cop Morphs into Copyright Grant Terminator describes Scorpio’s and Can’t Stop’s first three unsuccessful attempts to invalidate Willis’ copyright grant termination notice.  Scorpio and Can’t Stop recently met with a fourth rejection by the district court in their attempt to invalidate Willis’ copyright grant termination notice.

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Laches Defense Upheld, But Injunction Imposed After Long Delay by Trademark Owners

Thomas Kenneth Abraham founded Paddle Tramps in 1961.  Paddle Tramps manufactures and sells products displaying the names and symbols of fraternities and sororities and is known for its wooden paddles decorated with the Greek letters associated with fraternities and sororities.  Abraham was first contacted about obtaining a license from the Greek Organizations in 1990.  Abraham received letters from individuals representing the Greek Organizations periodically until 2007, when the Greek Organizations sued him in the Southern District of Florida for patent infringement and unfair competition.  That case was dismissed for improper venue, as Paddle Tramps is located in Lubbock, Texas. 

Abraham then brought a declaratory judgment action against the Greek Organizations in 2008.  A jury found that Abraham established his laches defense and that the Greek Organizations did not establish their unclean hands counter-defense.  The district court ruled that the Greek Organizations were not entitled to damages, due to the laches finding.  The district court judge enjoined Abraham from selling and using in advertising all of the infringing products except one.  Both parties appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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Copyright Holder’s Tardiness Prevents Copyright Infringement Claims

RSA Network, Inc., is a Utah-based company that developed the pilot escort vehicle training program for the state of Utah.  A pilot escort vehicle is a vehicle that guides an oversized vehicle by driving directly in front of or directly behind the oversized vehicle.  RSA’s president, Randy Sorenson, wrote the pilot escort vehicle certification training manual for the Utah program in 1992.  Sorenson registered his copyright in the manual in 1993. 

Evergreen Safety Council is a non-profit Washington corporation that is the administrator for Washington State’s pilot escort vehicle training program.  Sorenson acted as a consultant to the State of Washington in the development of its pilot escort vehicle training program.  Washington State based its pilot escort vehicle training manual on Utah’s manual.  Evergreen’s president sent a draft copy of Washington State’s training manual to Sorenson in 1999, seeking comments and suggestions.  Sorenson did not respond and did not open the letter containing the draft manual until 2010.  Evergreen registered its copyright in a revised version of the Washington State manual in 2003.

In 2009, RSA accused the states of Oklahoma, North Carolina and Washington of infringing its copyright in its pilot escort vehicle training manual.  Evergreen filed a declaratory judgment action for a judgment of non-infringement against RSA.  RSA counterclaimed for copyright infringement, to which Evergreen pleaded the laches defense.  The district court granted summary judgment in Evergreen’s favor, ruling that RSA’s claims were barred by laches.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

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