February 12, 2008

Copyright Statute of Limitations Issues

In Armstrong v. Global Pacific Records, Inc., No. 1:08-cv-10228-PBS (D.Mass complaint filed 2/11/08), Plaintiff -- alleged author of various musical compositions and related master recordings -- filed suit against a record label for breach of contract, and copyright infringment of those various compositions and related sound recordings.

Plaintiff's breach of contract claim arises out of the defendant record label's failure to ever pay royalties (both mechanical, and for the sound recordings). Given Plaintiff's allegations that the contracts were entered into no later than 1993, is their breach of contract claim barred by Massachusett's 6-year statute of limitations on contract claims?

Additionally, Plaintiff's copyright claims arise out of defendant's alleged unauthorized exploitation of the sound recordings and musical compositions since no later than (depending on the work at issue) both 1988 and 1997. At what point did Plaintiff's claim accrue, and is it barred by section 507(b) of the Copyright Act: "No civil action shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within three years after the claim accrued."

Especially interesting is that Plaintiff did not obtain copyright registrations for the sound recordings or musical compositions until the summer of 2007; presumably, registrations were obtained so that Plaintiff could file suit (17 U.S.C. 411). However, the sound recordings embodying the compositions at issue were recorded and commercially released in 1988 and/or 1992-1993. What effect does Plaintiff's recent registration have, including on Plaintiff's damages?

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