The film, Raging Bull, was released in 1980. It won the Academy Award for Robert DeNiro as Best Actor. The film was the subject of a copyright lawsuit that was filed by the estate of the person who wrote a 1963 screenplay upon which she alleged it was based. In 2009 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the case as out of time. The reason was that, although the 3 year statute of limitations was not a problem since the infringement was ongoing, the doctrine of laches applied.

In that case, Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 695 F. 3d 946 – Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2012, the court discussed the concept of laches, a doctrine of law that states a party cannot sit on its rights, but must vigorously assert them in a timely manner. In the event that the other side is prejudiced by the fact that the rights were not asserted earlier, a court can sometimes dismiss a claim because it would be inequitable to allow it to continue. This would be so even in the absence of a violation of the statute of limitations.

However, last week that case was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.  The court held that , “[t]o the extent that an infringement suit seeks relief solely for conduct occurring within the limitations period . . . courts are not at liberty to jettison Congress’ judgment on the timeliness of suit.” This is an important decision because it strengthens the protection of the right of a plaintiff to bring a copyright claim many years after the initial infringement, so long as the statute of limitations is not violated. It is important to note that the court did state that there might be certain situations in which it would be simply inequitable to allow the case to proceed, not withstanding that the statute of limitations would otherwise allow it. However, such circumstances would have to be extraordinary.

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