SCOTUS Removes Laches Protection Against Raging Bull

ImageBy Stephanie Olson

On May 19th, the Supreme Court resolved a circuit split in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Court ruled that the doctrine of laches does not bar copyright infringement suits if the suits are brought within the Copyright Act’s three-year rolling statute of limitations, absent extraordinary circumstances.

In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Court held that laches serves a gap-filling function and should be applied only in the absence of a limitation period. Because the Copyright Act provides a three-year limitation period, laches does not apply to copyright suits, except in extraordinary circumstances. This was not such a case.

In this case, boxing champion Jake LaMotta and his friend Frank Petrella copyrighted a screenplay in 1963 about LaMotta’s boxing career. An MGM subsidiary later acquired the rights. In 1980, MGM released and copyrighted Raging Bull, a film based off of the screenplay. Petrella died in 1981, and his daughter eventually obtained sole ownership of his copyright. She renewed it in 1991 and, in 1998, informed MGM that its exploitation of Raging Bull infringed on her copyright. In 2009, she sued MGM for infringing acts since 2006 pursuant to the separate-accrual rule, which creates a new limitation period for each infringing act. Continue reading

Ninth Circuit Holds Stock Photography Collection Registration Protects Individual Images, Defers to Longstanding Copyright Office Practice

By Amanda BringsImage

In Alaska Stock, LLC v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Pub. Co., the Ninth Circuit recently weighed in on the much-contested issue of whether the copyright registration for a photograph collection protects the individual images within the collection. Adopting the approach of the Fourth and Fifth circuits, the court held that when a stock photography agency registers a collection of images and the agency has ownership rights in both the collection and the individual images, the registration covers both the collection as a whole and the individual images.

The case arose when Alaska Stock, a stock photography agency, filed a complaint against the major publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) alleging that HMH committed copyright infringement when it exceeded its license to use Alaska Stock’s images. HMH moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Alaska Stock did not have valid copyright registrations for the individual images under 17 U.S.C. § 409, and therefore could not bring suit under 17 U.S.C. § 411(a), which makes registration a precondition for an infringement action. Continue reading