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How Long Do You Have To Sue When Your Photograph, Music, Or Art Has Been Stolen Under The Copyright Act?

by | Nov 18, 2022 | Copyright Law, Music Law, Photography Law |

When we think of the court system we often think about justice.  We often associate the courts as a place where someone who has been harmed can seek redress.  However, the court system, like all government institutions, is a bureaucracy.  The court system often balances the needs of justice against its own needs of administration.

One of these needs is finality.  The court system desires finality of all matters.  Therefore, the court system imposes deadlines by which you must sue someone.  Some of these deadlines are called “statute of limitations”.

Different laws have different statutes of limitations. For example, if you sue for a personal injury claim you may have one deadline and if you sue under a contract claim you may have a different deadline.

According, to 17 U.S.C. §507(b), when someone infringes upon your copyright you must file your lawsuit “within three years after the claim [has] accrued.”

Figuring out when a claim has accrued is a bit more complex.  Under the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction, which includes California and Nevada, “a claim for copyright infringement…accrue[s] when the copyright owner, discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the infringement.”  (Starz Ent., LLC  V. Mgm Domestic Television Distrib. LLC, 39 F.4th 1236, 1241-1242 (9th Cir. 2022)).  In addition, when infringement occurred multiple times, the “…statute of limitations runs separately for each successive incident of infringement.” (Id.)

Therefore, if someone illegally copies (infringes) your photograph, music, or art on three separate occasions, you must calculate the statute of limitations for each infringement.  Just because you are too late to file on one infringement does not mean it will be too late to file on any other infringements.

Regardless, the law of statute of limitations can be complex with many nuances.  There are many factors that determine the correct deadline.  In addition, undue delay may harm your case in other ways not covered in this blogpost.  Therefore, if your work has been infringed, you should promptly contact your attorney to calculate any deadlines to make sure you do not waive any of your rights or adversely impact your case.

These blogposts shall not be constituted as legal advice and are for informational purposes only.  Each and every case is different and requires an attorney to examine the specific case in question to arrive at an adequate legal conclusion.  In addition, these blogposts are not updated, or edited, after the date of their initial post, and as such, the information contained within them may be outdated.  Finally, the above blogpost discusses the law as interpreted within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit.  Various federal circuits may have differing interpretations of the law.  Consult with your own personal attorney for more information on the subject matters.