December 21, 2017 Articles

Papazian: Copyright, Statute of Limitations, and Statutory Damages

Allowing for statutory damages where actual damages are barred would effectively transform statutory damages into punitive damages.

By Dorian Simmons

A copyright owner brings suit against an alleged infringer within the Copyright Act’s statute of limitations (under the discovery rule of claim accrual). But awards of actual damages and the defendant’s profits attributable to infringement are precluded because the alleged infringing act occurred outside of the three-year limitations period. Is the copyright owner still entitled to statutory damages?

Judge Richard J. Sullivan considered this question in Papazian v. Sony Music Entertainment, No. 16-cv-07911, 2017 WL 4339662 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2017). Citing Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1962, 1973 (2014), and expressly disagreeing with another judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, he held that all monetary relief was barred. Judge Sullivan’s decision is consistent with the compensatory purpose of statutory damages and avoids incorrectly transforming statutory relief into punitive awards.

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