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A Guide to the Statute of Limitations for Copyright Infringement

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2022 | Copyright Law

If you have experienced copyright infringement, you have the right to pursue a lawsuit. However, you only have a limited time frame during which to file a claim. This legal principle is called the “statute of limitations.” Ensuring that you file a claim to enforce your copyright within the statute of limitations is crucial. If you wait too long, you will lose the right to enforce your copyright and obtain your deserved damages.

The Statute of Limitations for Copyright Infringement is Three Years

Statutes of limitations set forth the time limits during which you can file a lawsuit. States set their statutes of limitations, but there is only one statute of limitations since copyrights are governed by federal law. There is a three-year statute of limitations from the date of the last act of infringement.

What Constitutes the “Last Act” of the Infringement?

What constitutes the last act of infringement will vary depending on the facts of your case. Suppose someone published your image in a newspaper without obtaining your permission. In that case, you would have three years from the date that the newspaper was available for purchase to file your claim in court. However, if the copyright infringement continues, the last act is different. Suppose someone is using your copyrighted image on a website without your permission. In that case, the clock starts to run only when the photo is removed from the website.

The “Injury Rule”

In some cases, the owner of the copyrighted image does not find out about the infringement until it has already happened. In that case, when does the three-year statute of limitations start? Some courts use the “injury rule” when determining when to begin the clock for the statute of limitations. These courts will start the three-year time frame from the date of the last act of infringement, regardless of whether the owner knows about the infringement or not. Under this rule, if the owner does not discover the copyright infringement until three years after it occurred, he or she will not be able to take legal action against the infringer.

The “Discovery Rule”

The majority of courts follow the discovery rule regarding the statute of limitations for copyright infringement. The statute of limitations will start when someone discovers the copyright infringement. Alternatively, the clock will begin when the person should have reasonably discovered the copyright infringement if he or she had been diligent. This later example is referred to as constructive notice. Suppose you just discovered that someone began infringing on your copyright four years ago. Under the discovery rule, you could still have a copyright infringement claim.

Which Rule Applies to You?

If you decide to pursue a claim for copyright infringement, the rule used by the court will depend on which circuit you submit your claim. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th circuits currently use the discovery rule regarding U.S. Copyright Act claims. Only the 10th and 11th Circuit courts use the injury rule. For example, if you file a lawsuit for copyright infringement in Chicago, the court will apply rules used by the 7th circuit. As a result, the injury rule will apply to your statute of limitation determination. If you live in a jurisdiction that uses the “injury rule,” it is crucial that you stay vigilant in policing your copyright for infringement so you do not miss the opportunity to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit.

How Long Does the Statute of Limitations Apply?

The U.S. Copyright Act states that the statute of limitations for copyright violation is three years for civil lawsuits. You can only file a lawsuit within three years of discovering the copyright violation. However, this time frame is exclusive for civil court lawsuits. In some instances, copyright infringement can become criminal copyright infringement. For example, counterfeiting or mass production of the material can be criminal copyright infringement. Every copyright-related crime has its statute of limitations.

Damages That Occur Outside of the Three-Year Window

What happens if you file a copyright lawsuit within the three-year statute of limitations, but damages occurred outside that timeframe? You may only be able to recover damages for the three years rather than the entire period during which the infringement occurred. The person or company involved in infringement is protected from liability for earlier infringement of the same work. Each copyright infringement starts a new statute of limitations period.

However, the infringer is not liable for infringements that occurred over three years before filing the lawsuit. In other words, you will not be able to recover damages for the profits made by the infringer in the years outside the three-year window.

Why it is Important to Pursue Your Copyright Infringement Claim Quickly

Waiting to pursue a copyright claim can have devastating consequences when it comes to protecting your rights. Every cause of action, not just copyright infringement cases, has a statute of limitation. If you know that someone is violating your copyright, it is essential to do something now. If you wait and sleep on your rights, it might be too late. An experienced lawyer can also help you evaluate whether you will benefit from pursuing injunctive relief from the copyright infringer. Litigation is expensive, and your lawyer can help you take steps to stop the infringement before proceeding with litigation, potentially saving you time and money.

Contact an Experienced Copyright Lawyer Today

If you have been the victim of copyright infringement, the trusted advocate for intellectual property rights at AU LLC is here to help. Our prestigious intellectual property law firm is based in Chicago and represents clients throughout the country. After reviewing your case, we will advise you on how long you have to begin enforcing your copyright before the statute of limitations runs out. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.