Copyright Claim Expires 3 Years After Known Infringement

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (primarily hearing federal appeals from the New York region) held that if a plaintiff knows about a copyright infringement and waits three (3) years before filing suit, the infringement claim is barred by the statute of limitations.  In Simmons v. Stanberry, Case No. 14-cv-3106 (2d Cir., Jan. 15, 2016) (Available Here), the Second Circuit held that the Copyright Act’s three year statute of limitations applies to exclusive licensees and affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the suit on grounds of untimeliness.

Tyrone Simmons alleged that he purchased an exclusive license in February 2006 from Stanberry to a musical beat. Simmons also alleged that Stanberry later collaborated with Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, to produce a song titled “I Get Money” using the same musical beat.  Simmons alleged that in May 2007, Stanberry attempted to repudiate the license by email.  In the summer of 2007, 50 Cent’s song “I Get Money” employing the beat was released.  Simmons brought suit in 2010, three years after the song had been released.  The District Court dismissed the case because plaintiff waited more than 3 years to bring suit (3 years being the statute of limitations).

In affirming the dismissal, the Court relied on its holding in Kwan v. Schlein, 634 F.3d 224 (2d Cir. 2011), where the Court ruled that, notwithstanding the occurrence of allegedly infringing acts within three years of filing the action, the suit was nonetheless barred by the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. § 507(b), because the plaintiff, although aware of the defendants’ acts of infringement done in rejection of plaintiff’s claim of a copyright interest, had waited more than three years to sue.  

In Kwan, the plaintiff’s claims were rooted in her contested assertion of an ownership interest in the copyright, and that the claim of ownership interest was time-barred because of the plaintiff’s delay in suing.  The plaintiff could not resuscitate the untimely claim by relying on claims against the defendants’ continuing course of infringing publication after the plaintiff’s ownership claim became time-barred.

Similar to Kwan, more than three years prior to Simmons’ filing of his suit, Stanberry had made clear to him that he rejected Simmons’ assertion of an interest in the copyrighted beat and had gone on to exploit the copyrighted work.  Simmons was on notice of the infringement.  Simmons’ assertion of his claim of copyright claim interest is therefore time barred.  

As in Kwan, Simmons could not revive the time-barred claim of ownership of a copyright interest by relying on the defendants’ continued exploitation of the copyright within the three years of filing suit.

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