Commercial Division Blog

Posted: April 19, 2014 / Categories Commercial, Statute of Limitations/Laches, Intellectual Property

Statute of Limitations for Common Law Copyright Infringement Six Years

On April 14, 2014, Justice Kornreich of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in Capitol Records, LLC v. Harrison Greenwich, LLC, 2014 NY Slip Op. 24101, discussing the statute of limitations for common law copyright infringement under New York law.

In Capitol Records, the plaintiff record company sued the defendant for copyright infringement based on the defendant's unlicensed use of a song recorded in 1970. Because "federal copyright law does not cover sound recordings made prior to February 15, 1972," such "recordings are protected by state common law on copyright infringement." Thus, one question the court had to address was what the statute of limitations was for a common-law copyright claim. The court held that it was six years, explaining that:

since this controversy is governed by New York common law [] the CPLR, not federal law [applies]. Though the CPLR does not expressly set forth a statute of limitations for copyright infringement, CPLR 213(1) provides that the statue of limitations is 6 years for an action for which no limitation is specifically prescribed by law. The CPLR does not provide a statute of limitations for copyright infringement, nor does such claim appear to fall under the ambit of claims with set limitations periods, such as personal injury, breach of contract, and fraud.

Indeed, there is surprisingly scant case law addressing the accrual of New York common law claims that are predicated on an underlying copyright infringement. In Urbont [v. Sony Music Entm't, 863 F. Supp. 2d 279, 281 (SDNY 2012)], Judge Buchwald held that plaintiff's state law claims allege mere interference with his property and each alleged wrongful act gave rise to a separate common law cause of action. Judge Buchwald astutely observed that in Sporn, the Court of Appeals suggested that different statutes of limitation apply to different species of infringement. . . . Judge Buchwald concluded, however, that common law copyright claims are subject to a three-year statute of limitations because it would seem only logical for federal and state claims based on copyright infringement to accrue in a parallel manner. This, indeed, is logical. But logic, no matter how compelling, is not a basis to disregard the plain language of the CPLR. A straightforward reading of CPLR 213(1) militates in favor of a six-year statute of limitations. As the Court of Appeals recently held in Melcher v Greenberg Traurig, LLP, 2014 NY Slip Op 2213 (Apr. 1, 2014), when no explicit statute of limitation covers a cause of action, CPLR 213(1) applies.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted). The court went on to rule, however, that "given the novelty of this issue and the conflicting federal case-law, the court declines to rule without affording the parties an opportunity to brief this issue more substantively."