The Supreme Court is set to rule on a case that will determine how far back copyright holders can seek damages for infringement. The case involves a Florida producer who sued Warner Chappell Music after rapper Flo Rida sampled a song he owns. The lower court ruled that recovery for damages that occurred prior to the three-year window to sue is allowed, but the decision is being appealed. This case will clarify whether there is open-ended copyright liability or if there is a time limit for seeking damages.
At the center of the dispute is a 1984 song called “Jam the Box,” owned by Sherman Nealy’s record label Music Specialist. The song was used without permission in Flo Rida’s 2008 tune “In the Ayer.” Nealy sued Atlantic Records, Warner Chappell, and Artists Publishing Group in 2018, arguing that he did not authorize the use of his music and his former business partner did not have permission to grant licenses. The federal judge initially ruled that Nealy didn’t file the lawsuit within the three-year window, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, stating that the statute of limitations begins when the copyright owner knows or has reason to know they were injured.
Different federal appeals courts have reached conflicting conclusions on this issue. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the upcoming case will provide much-needed clarity on whether copyright holders can pursue damages for infringement that occurred more than three years before the lawsuit was filed. Intellectual property lawyers expect the Supreme Court to reverse the 11th Circuit’s ruling and impose a time limit on seeking damages. The Recording Industry Association of America and National Music Publishers’ Association have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to review the case to address the uncertainty and discourage forum shopping.
In summary, the Supreme Court is poised to decide how far back copyright holders can recover damages for infringement in a case involving a Florida producer and Warner Chappell Music. The case centers around the unauthorized sampling of a song owned by the producer, and the lower court allowed recovery for damages that occurred before the three-year window to sue. This case will determine whether there is open-ended copyright liability or if there is a statute of limitations for seeking damages. Different federal appeals courts have conflicting opinions on the matter, and the Supreme Court’s ruling will provide much-needed clarity in this area of copyright law.