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U.S. Supreme Court Grants Certiorari to Resolve Circuit Split Regarding Copyright Damages

Two appeals courts, a California-based Ninth Circuit and New York-based Second Circuit, have been split over a key time frame established by the Copyright Act, leading to one essential question—Can a copyright holder recover for infringements that occurred more than three years before the filing of a lawsuit? After a Florida-based Eleventh Circuit recently ruled “yes,” siding with the Ninth Circuit and widening the circuit split, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify the damages period under the Copyright Act.

In the case at hand, musician Sherman Nealy and his company sued for copyright infringement that occurred as early as 2008. However, Nealy claimed he did not learn of the alleged copyright violations until 2016, and filed his suit less than three years later, in 2018. Under the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling, Nealy can seek relief for the infringement dating back to 2008. However, if the Second Circuit’s ruling were applied, Nealy’s relief would be limited to infringements within three years of filing the lawsuit.

It is not surprising that the states where these disputes have arisen are prominent artistic hotspots, as the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will have an impact on copyright holders including musicians, artists, authors, and other creatives. The ruling will play a pivotal role in shaping the scope of recoverable damages for infringements. It will also reduce forum shopping, impact incentives for pursuing litigation, and affect the cost and time investment associated with copyright infringement claims. Ideally, the Supreme Court’s decision will maintain strong protection for copyright holders while fostering uniformity and greater predictability under the Copyright Act.

FindLaw Network