On July 14, the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling in the case Starz v. MGM that is a significant win for writers nationwide. The Court upheld the right of all copyright owners (including dramatists) to sue for damages for copyright infringement beyond the statutory three-year period, when the infringement was -or reasonably should have been- discovered by the owner only after the three-year period had expired.
In the case, MGM had argued that copyright holders should only be allowed to collect damages for the three-year period before a suit is brought, rather than three years from when a copyright holder discovers -or reasonably should have discovered- that their work had been infringed. (This principle is called the “discovery rule.”) A federal district court in California initially denied MGM’s motion to dismiss the case based on the discovery rule, but MGM appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last November, the Dramatists Guild co-signed and supported the Authors Guild in an amicus brief, in support of Starz’s position, recognizing the possibly devastating impact that a ruling in favor of MGM could have had on the rights of playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Had the Court overturned the California district court’s finding in favor of MGM, dramatists would have been deprived of the ability to collect damages when they, through no fault of their own, had not become aware of the infringement for at least three years.
Such a change in the law would have harmed artists at a time when they are under increasing financial pressure and when their copyrights are increasingly difficult to enforce in a digital world where infringement is already widespread. Happily, the Court upheld the discovery rule, protecting dramatists everywhere.
The amicus brief was filed at the initial behest of the Authors Guild, joined by the DG and the other artists’ organizations, by pro bono counsel Benjamin H. Diessel, Nathan E. Denning, and Michael Rondon of Wiggin & Dana LLP.