Congress created the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to create a safe harbor for businesses to operate online without fear of being sued into next Tuesday for copyright infringement based on content uploaded by a user. Ah, but what if you screw up the DMCA and get sued? The statute of limitations for copyright infringement might save you.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the maximum period of time one party has to sue another for a particular claim. In many states, one party has only a year to sue for basic legal claims such as breach of contract or negligence.
The statute of limitations concept exists for a few reasons. First, we need to try legal claims in a timely manner because evidence decays over time – witnesses vanish, documents are lost, parties die, etc. Second, we don’t want legal claims hanging over a person’s head for decades. Imagine if people could sue each other for events that occurred thirty years ago. Lawsuits would flood the courts with the legal system grinding to a halt. Would insurance even be possible?
The statute of limitations for copyright infringement is three years. The question is when does the three years start to run? The courts are split. Take a look:
The United States Supreme Court has shown little interest in fundamental copyright issues in the last few decades. However, the current Justices seem to be more receptive to addressing splits in copyright law with the Court deciding significant copyright disputes in the last few years. While this doesn’t guarantee we’ll see the Supreme Court address the split on when the statute of limitations starts to run with copyright infringement claims, there is a realistic hope the Justices take the matter up.
The statute of limitations for copyright infringement is three years. Unfortunately, we do not have a clear rule for when those years start to run.