AIPLA Files Amicus Brief in Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al. v. Sherman Nealy, et al.

Written December 7, 2023

Arlington, VA. December 1, 2023 - the American Intellectual Property Law Association filed an amicus brief in support of neither party to the Supreme Court in Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al. v. Sherman Nealy, et al. on the issue of whether the Copyright Act's statute of limitations imposes a three-year limit on the lookback period for damages in copyright ownership disputes applying the discovery rule. Although most circuits have rejected such a limit, the Second Circuit has interpreted the Supreme Court’s ruling in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. as imposing a three-year bar on damages. The brief notes that the Copyright Act does not explicitly or implicitly restrict damages based on the limitations period, and thus, in discovery accrual cases, there is no basis in the text of the Act for imposing such a bar. Further, the brief argued that Petrella does not compel a contrary conclusion because its holding is inapplicable to discovery accrual cases, as the plaintiff in Petrella was aware of the on-going infringement as it happened, and the timing of claim accrual was immaterial to the holding.

The brief argues that imposing a damages bar under such circumstances would undermine the purposes of having the discovery rule, and would be particularly unfair to individual artists and small businesses lacking resources for continuous monitoring. However, the brief recommends the Court’s ruling should be limited to ownership disputes and should not be misapplied to ordinary infringement cases. Otherwise, claims for ordinary infringement would be actionable until discovered, which would frustrate the legislative purpose in having a statute of limitations in the first place. AIPLA also argued that the District Courts must be vigilant in managing their dockets and discouraging abusive filings, particularly in identifying claims incorrectly pled as ownership disputes to avail the plaintiffs of additional damages.


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